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Manti Te’o: The Notre Dame Linebacker Unplugged – Part Six

Dec 1, 2012, 2:32 PM EST

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) AP

The following is from a recent feature written by John Walters (’88). We’ll be posting it in segments on the Strong & True blog over the next few days, but you can also check out the full article here.

Note: This document was originally produced and distributed in November 2012. In January 2013, Manti Te’o told ESPN he had been the victim of a hoax regarding the existence of Lennay Kekua.

From the North Shore of the island of Oahu to South Bend, Ind., Manti Te’o cuts an unconventional figure. Here is a Mormon of Polynesian descent attending college at America’s foremost Catholic university. A Hawaii native who chose to attend school six time zones east in northern Indiana. A gentle soul who smashes into ball carriers like a 20-foot wave on the gridiron. A defensive player who is being considered for the Heisman Trophy. Below is a compilation of facts, anecdotes and details on Notre Dame’s No. 5 (the defensive version), who has played a pivotal role in the Irish’s undefeated season.

Bridget Smith:

Three weeks after Manti Te’o lost two women, his grandmother and girlfriend, to diseases within hours of one another on the same day, he sat down and wrote a letter to a couple who were enduring a similar suffering. Brian Smith is a Notre Dame alumnus and his wife, Louise, a graduate of Saint Mary’s College. The Smiths’ 12 year-old daughter, Bridget, was in the last throes of her battle with leukemia when a mutual friend told Manti about the Smiths.

Unprompted, Te’o wrote a letter to Bridget’s parents. All he knew was that the girl had leukemia and that she was a fan of both the Irish and him. “My whole thing was just to reach out and let them know I’m here,” Te’o told Greg Couch of Fox Sports. “And I think it helped ease my pain, too.”

The email letter arrived in the Smiths’ inbox on the morning of Oct. 5. They had already planned to disconnect Bridget’s ventilator that afternoon. “We opened the letter that morning, and it was just a bright spot on the saddest day of our lives,” said Louise Smith. “We read it to her (Bridget was in a coma), we shared with her what it said.”

The story only became public because a friend of the Smiths contacted Couch about the letter. He then contacted Notre Dame and wrote a column detailing the event.

Click here to read the column.

Locker Trinket:

Inside his locker, Manti Te’o keeps a football that was signed by eight-year-old Trey Sedlack. The son of one of Teo’s graphic design professors, Sedlack and Te’o have become friends. When Manti learned that young Trey had twice intercepted passes and returned them for touchdowns in his flag football league, he exclaimed, “Trey Sedlack, you’re my hero!”

At the time, Te’o had not yet had an interception in three seasons for the Fighting Irish.

Young Trey, with utter sincerity, obtained a commemorative Notre Dame football (presumably with his father’s help) and autographed it for his older gridiron counterpart. “To Manti, From Trey,” reads the inscription on the football. “I hope you get a pick-six.”

As Pete Thamel recounted in an article on SI.com, Te’o keeps the football in his locker at Notre Dame Stadium and touches it before every home game. He has yet to record a pick-six, but Te’o does have a team-high seven interceptions this season.

“I want my teammates to understand that when No. 5 says something to you, that means it’s very important because he doesn’t talk a lot. If I’m saying something to you, it’s going to help you.”
— Manti Te’o, Chicago Sun-Times, August 2012

John Walters, a 1988 Notre Dame graduate, is originally from Red Bank, N.J. He has worked as a sports writer at The Daily (an iPad publication), Sports Illustrated, NBC Sports and AOL Fanhouse—and is the author of “Notre Dame Golden Moments: 20 Memorable Events That Shaped Notre Dame Football” and “The Same River Twice.” He also assisted Digger Phelps in authoring “Basketball for Dummies.”

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