Te’o puts better foot forward
By TOM COYNE
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o ended a trying three months by putting up a respectable 40-yard dash time Tuesday.
“I thought I did pretty good,” Te’o said after his pro day workout in front of scouts from 27 of 32 NFL teams. “I’m very pleased with the way that I performed.”
Some had expressed concern whether Te’o could be an every-down back in the NFL after he was timed at 4.82 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine in Indianapolis.
But he was timed at 4.69 seconds at Notre Dame’s indoor practice facility, attributing the improvement to being more comfortable at home and around friends.
Te’o is hoping to be picked in the first round of next month’s NFL draft.
He also bench-pressed 225 pounds 21 times and ran the 60-yard shuttle in 11.78 seconds while letting his other performances at the combine stand.
The Heisman Trophy runner-up had an off game in the BCS championship game against Alabama in January.
He then came under scrutiny after it was revealed he fell in love online with a woman who didn’t exist and then had the disappointing time at the combine.
His performance Tuesday came as a relief.
“This is possibly the best day ever. It’s a big, big burden off your shoulders,” he said. “It feels like it’s your birthday. I’m very glad that it’s over.”
Te’o,a former star at Punhou, has already met with some NFL teams and has plans to meet with more. He said teams have different levels of interest in talking about how he was duped into having an online relationship with a fake girlfriend.
“Some guys just want to be brief on what happened. Some guys go into a little bit more depth. But overall, it’s been a great opportunity, a great experience. It went better than I expected,” he said.
Te’o said he had heard some stories about players being grilled by NFL management, but said that hasn’t been what he’s encountered. He said his message to them is he wants to focus being as a football player.
“I’m a football player, I made mistakes, but nothing that affected my play on the football field,” he said.
He said teams haven’t asked him about being an every-down player, saying they want to know how he went from having no interceptions in his first three seasons to picking off seven as a senior.
Te’o said the key was losing weight, understanding where he was supposed to be and studying film to learn opponents’ tendencies.
Te’o was one of 14 Notre Dame players taking part in the pro day. Tight end Tyler Eifert, also considered a possible first-round pick, did not do any of the events he took part in at the combine, but did take part in position drills.
Eifert said he believes what he did last season, catching 50 passes for 685 yards and four touchdowns, is what will be most important in determining where he will be drafted.
“It’s not make-or-break if you don’t do well at the combine or the pro day. You’ve already shown what you can do on tape and that’s what really matters,” Eifert said.
If Te’o and Eifert are both taken in the first round, it would mark the second straight year for Irish players.
Last year, receiver Michael Floyd was taken by Arizona with the 13th pick and safety Harrison Smith was taken with the 29th pick.
Before that, it hadn’t happened since three Irish players were taken in the first round in 1994.
Te’o, who worked out with Eifert in Florida, thanked him for his support while news about his fake girlfriend broke, with Te’o appearing on Katie Couric’s syndicated talk show and the man behind the hoax, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, being interviewed by Dr. Phil McGraw for the “Dr. Phil Show.”
“I owe a debt to this guy. I was going through the hardest time in my life and I was lucky to have one of my best friends with me. This guy checked up on me every day,” Te’o said.
Te’o also said that having his name called during the NFL draft will be a dream come true.
“Obviously, when that happens I’m going to be happy,” he said. “That’s just the first step to a very, very long journey.”
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