Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct 08, 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM OCT. 8, 2022 7 BY TODD D. BURLAGE A fter years of self-reflection, public ridicule and, frankly, personal em- barrassment over his well publicized personal dramas, former Notre Dame all-everything linebacker Manti Te'o has finally found peace in his life. A unanimous All-American and a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2012, Te'o won seven individual awards that sea- son, including the Maxwell and Bed- narik awards that are presented annu- ally to the best player in college football. Te'o became a second-round pick of the then-San Diego Chargers in 2013, and played 62 regular-season games across eight NFL seasons with three teams, making 307 tackles. The 31-year-old linebacker last played for the Chicago Bears in 2020. Unfortunately, it's how Te'o fell into an elaborate catfishing scam toward the end of his senior season that tragically followed him for years, and unfairly overshadowed many of his football ac- complishments. Te'o's highly visible Notre Dame career and over-publicized personal life came back in the spotlight in August when Net- flix released a documentary called "UN- TOLD: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist." The two-hour film detailed the hoax that successfully targeted Te'o through the guise of a long-distance relationship and a fictional girlfriend whom a scam artist pretended to be through phone calls and internet correspondence. Te'o explained that, at first, he was reluctant to exhume those old ghosts and share his story for the documentary — but now, he's glad he did. "I had experienced closure in my life. I was at peace with where my life was, and what could be for the rest of my life," Te'o shared. "But with the op- portunity that Netflix presented where they're saying, 'Hey, we're telling the full story.' I said, 'Let's do this.' "I'm the same guy that I was here [at Notre Dame]. And it's good for people, and for me, to be reminded of that. I thought [the documentary] was well done and it was exactly what I wanted it to be." During the California game weekend, Te'o returned to campus to spend a cou- ple of days around the 2022 Notre Dame team, and with first-year head coach Marcus Freeman. "Just somebody that you would liter- ally do anything for," Te'o said of his first impressions of the new Irish skip- per. "I think as a head coach, that is the most important thing that you can es- tablish with your players." Before the kickoff against Cal Sept. 17, Te'o walked with the team on its "Vic- tory March" from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart to the stadium, following pregame Mass. Te'o also met with the media that Saturday to talk about the Netflix docu- mentary and how he's found much sol- ace now, 10 years after his graduation. "I owe this school everything," he said. "It's not only the classroom, but it's the relationships you make with your classmates, with your professors, that's what it is for me. It's the people that make this place." To this day, Te'o said he still considers attending Notre Dame one of the two best decisions he ever made, the other one being marrying his girlfriend, Jovi Nicole Engbino in 2020. The couple has a 1-year-old daughter, Hiromi, with a son on the way. "[Jovi] is the anchor of my life," Te'o said. Te'o proudly gloats that his family is priority No. 1. He dabbles in real estate investing, and he owns and operates a trucking company to pay the bills, and he also recently joined the Transcend team, a telehealth provider that exclu- sively works with athletes. It doesn't seem possible that 10 years have passed since Te'o led Notre Dame to the 2012 BCS National Championship Game, and the star linebacker became a Heisman Trophy finalist because of it. At the time, Te'o was one of only 16 defensive players to become a finalist for the award. And many thought he had a legitimate chance of winning it. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Man- ziel ended up taking home the Heis- man with 2,029 votes, with Te'o not far behind in second place at 1,706 votes, which remains the highest vote total for a defensive player. Te'o explained how during his week- end "back home" at Notre Dame, out of love he tried to visit with as many familiar faces as possible, right down to the chefs in the South Dining Hall and the ushers at the stadium. "That's what I want everybody to un- derstand, every student-athlete, every student, anybody who ever comes to this university is to give it everything you've got," said Te'o, who became choked up when he was introduced on the field before the game. "Because I promise you, if you do, Notre Dame will return the favor tenfold." ✦ UNDER THE DOME FINALLY AT PEACE Manti Te'o makes his Notre Dame homecoming Te'o was at first reluctant to participate in the Netflix documentary about the hoax that targeted him in college, but is now glad he did. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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