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An Early Christmas Gift

Dec 16, 2011, 1:42 PM EST

On Sunday night, much to my surprise, I was greeted with an early Christmas present, courtesy of #5 – junior linebacker Manti Te’o. Though Twitter has been around since 2006, I think it’s safe to say that 2011 was the Year of the Tweet. No longer are we reliant upon newspapers, radio stations and television broadcasts to break the news for us. Instead, Twitter is the place we can go to find out…just about anything.

So naturally, it was on Twitter that I learned the big news from the Lott IMPACT Trophy presentation. No, not that the “Hawaiian Hitman” had won the great award, but better news, that Te’o would be returning for his senior season.

Perhaps we shouldn’t make a big deal out of this. Aren’t student-athletes supposed to spend four years at their undergraduate institution before walking across the stage, degree in hand? After all, most will be “going pro in something other than sports.”

Let’s not kid ourselves. We know the system well enough to understand that for many collegiate athletes in football and basketball, the NCAA is just a steppingstone to the next level.

In a time when it may be easy to lose faith in college athletics, Te’o’s decision is a reminder that not all is gone. From a football perspective, Te’o probably could have moved on from Notre Dame, been drafted in April and contributed immediately in the NFL.

But for the 6-foot-2 junior from Laie, Hawaii, life is about more than football. “The NFL is my goal. My dream is to have an impact on the most people as possible,” Te’o explained on Sunday.

Te’o has long demonstrated his commitment to faith, service and the community. He was recently named to the 2011 Capital One Academic All- America squad (second team) and was also selected as this season’s Rockne Student-Athlete at the team’s football awards show last Friday.

He recognizes that Notre Dame is more than a “football school.” He understands that being a student-athlete is about more than athletics. And he realizes that football is what he does, not the defining factor in the person he is and wants to be. For those reasons, Te’o should be commended and Irish nation should celebrate his return for 2012.

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