Te’o, of Samoan, Hawaiian and Puerto Rican descent, selected his “final-five” college choices Sunday from the 32 schools that offered scholarships. The final five are BYU, Notre Dame, Stanford, UCLA and Southern California.
“I will most likely make my final decision on signing day [February next year],” Te’o confirmed.
Up at 5 a.m. most mornings because he lives 40 miles away from school in Laie, Oahu’s small north shore community where the world famous Polynesian Cultural Center is located, Manti balances a hectic school, football and family schedule at prestigious Punahou School in Honolulu – the same private school Democratic presidential hopeful Barrack Obama attended.
The 6-foot-2-inch all-star linebacker – with 4.6 forty speed, a 3.2 GPA and a passing SAT score of 1540 – currently leads his Punahou School team with 60 tackles four games into their season.
Previously ranked No. 1 in Hawaii, Punahou lost 40-19 against St. Louis last week, even though Te’o enjoyed his best defensive outing with 19 tackles. They prevailed in three previous games against Central Kitsap 42-19 (14 tackles) at the Seattle Seahawks Quest Field Stadium in Seattle; 41-14 against Castle High (12 tackles); and 37-21 against Waianae High (15 tackles).
Meanwhile, Te’o said he has started the process of personally informing coaches of the 27 schools he will not be attending.
He said he was “honored and deeply grateful” to the schools and coaches that offered scholarships, but declined to discuss why he ruled out Arizona, Auburn, Baylor, Boise State, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana State, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, New Mexico State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Oregon State, San Diego State, Southern Methodist, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, UNLV, Utah, Washington and West Virginia.
Punahou head coach Kale Ane noted that Te’o’s final five picks were “pretty representative of his balance of athletics and academics.
“He told me he’s going to personally write each school [he did not select] and thank them for their interest. He chose wisely. Getting to 10 [schools] was easier than getting to five. It was really difficult for him, but I know he feels good about his choices.”
Interestingly, Te’o said he has yet to speak with any coaches of his top-five college choices since he made his decision. Certainly, none will feel slighted when they learn they’re in the semifinal sweepstakes for Hawaii’s most highly recruited football player ever.
FINAL FIVE LIKES AND DISLIKES
Asked to succinctly list his main likes and dislikes about each of his top selections, Te’o responded:
BYU – LIKE: “I like the area and Coach Bronco Mendenhall is a great man who has definitely turned the football program around.” DISLIKE: “Their 3-4 defensive scheme - which is what we play at Punahou - because I’m constantly fighting off blockers.” His primary recruiter is Robert Anae, offensive coordinator.
USC – LIKE: “I like their brand of football, especially their ability to develop and motivate their players to play as one and win championships.” DISLIKE: “I’ve been to USC two times and the community surrounding the campus is what I dislike the most.” His primary recruiter is Steve Sarkisian, offensive coordinator.
STANFORD – LIKE: “Linebacker coach Andy Buh. He coached me at the All-Poly Camp and I like the way he coaches.” DISLIKE: “I don’t know that much about the university.” His primary recruiter is Andy Buh, linebacker coach.
NOTRE DAME – LIKE: “Their tradition and Coach Charlie Weis and all the NFL connections he has.” DISLIKE: “They’re the farthest away from home.” His primary recruiter is Brian Polian, special teams coach.
UCLA – LIKE: “The location, and coach Norm Chow is someone I really respect, and what they have to offer at that university.” DISLIKE: “How they’re doing so far in their football program.” His primary recruiters are Rick Neuheisel, head coach, and Norm Chow, offensive coordinator.
On the heels of an embarrassing 59-0 blowout loss to BYU last Saturday, UCLA head coach Rich Neuheisel, who is personally overseeing Te’o’s recruitment with his not-so-secret ace-in-the-hole Norm Chow, called Te’o Sunday morning for his weekly recruiting call “because he knew I was watching the game.”
“We spoke for about 10 minutes and he said they have a young team and that hopefully it [lopsided blowout] won’t repeat itself.”
Te’o leaves Friday for his first official weekend recruiting visit to UCLA because it’s a bye week for Punahou. He will be on hand to watch the Bruins’ Pac-10 opener Saturday against the Arizona Wildcats, one of the schools that did not make the final cut.
NORM CHOW: UCLA’S RECRUITING ADVANTAGE
Speaking of UCLA, Manti’s father Brian confirmed that “Norm [Chow] has a lot to do with it [UCLA’s recruiting advantage] because he’s LDS and also his Punahou connection [alumnus]. Because Norm’s there, UCLA really came on Manti’s radar. Plus, we have a lot of family there in LA.
Coach Ane added: “Norm is a personal friend of our family. My father, coached him [at Punahou] when he played here. We’ve been very proud of him and what he represents. It’s a huge advantage for UCLA having Norm there. He really cares about Manti’s success and what he can do to help him. Norm’s just a quality guy.”
SHILOAH & BYU
While he is cautious and careful about not providing any hint of favoritism among his final five, Te’o confirmed he is paying close attention to BYU right now because his closest cousin, Shiloah Te’o (true freshman backup safety), is playing there:
“Shiloah’s really enjoying himself at BYU, having a lot of fun,” Manti said of his cousin and confidante. “He doesn’t pressure me [to pick BYU]. He’s really good about that. I love him for what he does; he’s always supported me. We talk to each other all the time, especially on weekends before and after our games to wish each other luck.
“I was watching the BYU-Washington game at our hotel [in Seattle] mostly looking for Shiloah, number 36, to see how he was doing and cheering him on.”
His father, Brian Te’o, laughed when he described Manti’s special relationship with his cousin: “Manti and Shiloah are like husband and wife. They are so close. They’re, like, always talking to each other [by phone] all the time and at all times of the night.
“When I spoke to Shiloah after the Washington game, he seemed to be enjoying every minute of his time at BYU. He said it’s hard [school and football practices], but he loves it.”
“The main reason we watched the BYU-UCLA game was to see Shiloah. and he got to play a lot,” Manti’s father Brian said, adding “we were also closely watching the defensive schemes from each school to see which one he [Manti] would fit into. It was really interesting to watch the different defensive philosophies.”
BRONCO MENDENHALL: BYU’S BIGGEST RECRUITING ADVANTAGE
For father and son, easily the biggest positive in BYU’s favor, among his college favorites, is none other than head coach Bronco Mendenhall – who garnered a great deal of national media attention this week when his Cougars annihilated the UCLA Bruins 59-0 last Saturday.
Te’o said, “I was watching the BYU-UCLA with my whole family at home cheering for Shiloah. BYU came in with a great game plan and executed it really well. Coach Mendenhall prepared them really well. It was the perfect game plan with excellent execution.
“Coach Mendenhall has done a great job,” Te’o continued, “turning the program around. He has done a great job portraying the [Mormon] Church and standing up for what the Church believes in. The Lord is blessing him and his team. That’s what keeps his program and his team so strong and unified. It’s definitely unique. It’s an advantage to those who follow that faith.
“Coach Mendenhall realizes what’s important in life and it goes to show what kind of man he is and how much respect he deserves. It’s a familiar sight for me to see where he’s coming from and he’s definitely reaping the blessings of having so much faith. It’s a reflection of how his football program is doing.”
“I want to position myself in a program that’s going to prepare me well for the next level [NFL] and there are great programs that are not church schools. But I would be comfortable going to a university that believes in the same values and principles. BYU has their strengths and [the Church] is definitely a plus.
“I remember Coach Mendenhall talking about how the head coaching at BYU is a special [religious] calling for him and he’s doing what he feels the Lord wants him to do, and he’s reaping the blessings of that and so is his program,” he remarked.
Brian, was even more effusive about the Cougars’ 42-year-old gridiron brain trust.
“I love that man [Mendenhall]. He is incredible. With him, even though he’s not family or even Polynesian, you have that feeling like you’ve known him forever every time you meet him. He epitomizes integrity.
“He’s very purposeful. Nothing he does is by accident. I really admire him.
“I’ve never seen a team click the way they have with his ‘no-star’ [referring to the way national recruiting services rate and rank players using a five-star system] players. That’s a tribute to their coaching,” Brian said.
Following the Cougars’ lopsided win Saturday over the Bruins, Manti said he also spoke with BYU offensive coordinator, Robert Anae, “on Sunday afternoon right before church for about 15 minutes. He was checking in to see how we did [first-season 40-19 loss to St. Louis School, another top private prep school in Honolulu]. He was telling me about Shiloah, basically a follow-up on how he’s doing and how the program is going.
“The [UCLA blowout] win was a great victory for them. I congratulated him on the win. My impression of the game was they [BYU] operated as one; everybody had a job to do and did it. The score was a reflection of great coaching. BYU seems like they’re taking care of business right now. They looked a lot more focused and put their best foot forward.”
An active and staunch member of the LDS Church, Manti shared his thoughts about BYU’s unique positioning and possible advantages IF he were to sign there.
“It’s a Church school. I’d feel comfortable in an environment where everybody believes in the same things. There wouldn’t be that much temptation. It’s a great feeling to know that BYU is a place where most people believe in the same thing and the chances of going astray are not that strong.”
As far as BYU is concerned, “you try and look ahead to see if they’re heading in the right direction. With their wins against Washington and UCLA, they’re definitely headed in the right direction.”
His father further noted, “If he goes to BYU, it will be where he feels most comfortable at in regards to his personal life. If he chooses that path, so be it. Everything he [needs] is at BYU. Also, being able to play with his [first] cousins [Shiloah and running back Malosi Te’o, who returns from a LDS mission later this year] will be a good thing since the last time they all played football together was when they were younger. “
“When we were visiting BYU this summer [while attending his uncle Alema Te’o’s All-Poly Camp], we sat down with Coach Mendenhall and he asked Manti which linebacker position he’d feel more comfortable at. As he [Mendenhall] explained the different [linebacker] positions, Manti likes the one that [outside linebacker] David Nixon plays [as did current New York Giants OLB Brian Kehl before him], attacking the ball and the quarterback.”
Asked whether he plans to serve a Mormon mission like many LDS young men opt to do as soon as they turn 19, Te’o said: “All my top five schools will allow me to serve my [two-year LDS] mission if I want to.”
Adding hope for the non-LDS schools, he added: “If I feel the Lord needs me to serve a different mission in this life, and that is by playing football, then it’s going to be on me and not up to the people from any university – and I won’t blame it on the players or the coaches. I will serve my mission no matter what.”
Meanwhile, he confirmed his current plan and goal to serve an LDS mission. “So far, it’s definitely what I plan to do. If I want to, I’m going to do it and nobody’s going to hold me back.”
His father added: “As parents, we tell him that when the time comes, you have to make that decision. If he were 19 now, he would go.”
LIVING IN NATIONAL RECRUITING GLASS BUBBLE
Asked what it is like to be the country’s top-rated linebacker recruit and having every word or action closely scrutinized by others everywhere he goes, Te’o said: “It’s really tough. You always have to put your best put forward at all times and know that people are watching you wherever you go and whatever you do.
“There’s definitely a lot of pressure and responsibility to work harder and live up to the hype. I have to focus more on being who I am compared to what people think I should be.
“It is also a lot of pressure also for my family. It’s definitely a blessing, but with that blessing comes ups and downs. It is an honor to be in my situation and I’m very grateful for the opportunity all these universities have given me to play football.”
Te’o said the onslaught of college recruiters travelling to the islands to see him and talk to his coaches has provided a residual benefit to otherwise little-known recruits in Honolulu.
“The best part of this situation is that it also opens up other [recruiting] opportunities for athletes in Hawaii who cannot afford to go to football camps [on the mainland]. It’s brought the coaches to Hawaii to see them.”
Coach Ane also commented on his beneficial impact for other Hawaii recruits: “Everyone’s visual exposure here has gone up because of Manti. He’s benefitting all the [top] kids here in Hawaii. Being in the middle of the Pacific, we don’t get enough [recruiting] exposure. Manti has been a positive for everyone.
“He’s so mature for his age. I’m just amazed at how he’s handled all the hype and still played up to all expectations so calmly.”
MANTI’S TOP FIVE COLLEGE CONSIDERATIONS
Asked to list his top five considerations in choosing a college to play for, Te’o explained:
1. “Do they have the coaching to get me into the NFL?”
2. “If I get hurt before I sign [a national letter of intent], will they still honor my scholarship offer?”
3. “Can I make an important impact [start] right away?”
4. “How’s the football program doing?”
5. “Will they take me as me or who I am? Will they alienate me because I’m different? Because I’m a local [Hawaiian] boy, I may not blend in right away with mainland people.”
Brian said that “education is very important to him [Manti] and will play an important part in his decision; especially the value of the degree from the school he goes to.”
TE’O: THE COACHES’ PET PLAYER?
Ane, who has coached at Punahou for more than 20 years, the last 10 as head coach, spoke glowingly about the greatest prep player ever in the school’s history.
“I’ve never had an athlete like Manti before. He is the complete package, a difference maker, an impact player. Whoever gets him is getting a great athlete and an exceptional young man. He understands the balance between academics and athletics. He’s very humble and dedicated to doing everything he can to improve himself and help his team.
“What am I’m going to miss the most? His talent, his attitude and his effort. I enjoy him because he cares deeply about the team and doing well.
“He’s just a unique kid we’re going to miss greatly. He brings integrity, fun and his competitive nature to the game. When someone knocks him down, he congratulates them. When he knocks them down, he picks them up,” he continued.
“It’s so wonderful to coach such a talented player who thinks so much of others. He wants to play against the best [opposing players] every week. He gets upset when he doesn’t make every tackle. It’s been a great ride for us coaches to work with someone special like this…”
HOME BOY & EAGLE SCOUT
Even as he focuses on an exceedingly bright future, Manti Te’o has not lost sight of the things that are most important to him – family. He is the oldest of five and is fully cognizant of the example he must set for younger siblings BrieAnne, Tiare, Eden, Maya and Manasseh.
Amidst the rush and rumblings of life, Manti and his family are also planning his upcoming Eagle Scout Court of Honor. His project? “Me, my family and some friends made a bike path at BYU-Hawaii for my Eagle Scout project.”
Brian and Ottilia Te’o are understandably very proud of Manti – who is already widely regarded as a man among boys in every aspect of his young life.