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Power of prayer pays off for Te'o and the Irish


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POSTED: Thursday, February 05, 2009

Manti Te'o kept looking for that cool side of the pillow Stuart Scott always talks about.

Couldn't find it.

"Too nervous to sleep," the most sought-after high school football player in state history said.

"I prayed about it and prayed about it."

That's when it became understandable why the words were coming from under a Notre Dame lid.

Prayer. Spirituality. Something bigger than himself.

OK, if religion is a reason to choose a school, Te'o would've picked Brigham Young. That was conventional wisdom, since he's an LDS church member. But a few days ago either Te'o or BYU deemed Provo not the right place for him (depends on who's telling the story).

Then everything pointed to USC. The Coliseum is, after all, where Polynesian linebackers go to shine, right? Just ask Kaluka Maiava of Baldwin and Rey Maualuga. Don't forget Junior Seau.

UCLA was second, with fellow Punahou guy Norm Chow the offensive coordinator and small-kid-time best friend and high school teammate Robby Toma a seemingly firm commit.

Notre Dame?

Even Fighting Irish coach Charlie Weis seemed stunned.

"A kid from Hawaii comes to the Syracuse game (a loss) in the snow and ends up committing. It's truly remarkable."

Way too far. Why go to Indiana to major in ice scraping when you can be in sunny California with song girls and a cool-guy coach like Pete Carroll or Rick Neuheisel?

Turns out, South Bend has what he's looking for in a school, community and football program. Who cares if it's a couple of time zones farther east? And that Hawaii Bowl performance is a strong indicator the Irish are poised for big things.

Top prospects from Hawaii usually choose the Pac-10. But Kale Ane, who coached Te'o at Punahou, thrived at Michigan State and played in the NFL.

"Maybe a little," Ane said, when asked if he thought this might have factored in. "He's a very interesting young man."

Ane was surprised like most of us. But the more you think about it, the more sense it makes.

UH recruiting coordinator Tony Tuioti said it might have been "good P.R." if a Warriors cap was up there with the others in front of Te'o yesterday. But he appreciated that Manti and his family were up front and did not include the home team in the Fave Five for show.

"I think he did everything the right way," Tuioti said. "He let everyone know where he was at. So few kids do things the right way."

Part of this is about Te'o blazing a trail, as a pioneer in football's version of opposite-direction manifest destiny.

Laugh, but Te'o talked about "showcasing" Hawaii football talent, and not just his own. Sincerely spiritual people understand that their big decisions can affect a community, not just themselves. For a kid, Te'o has an incredible understanding of his status, and what it can mean for others.

"He could've chosen to have his own press conference. Instead he chose to be part of the team," said Mayor Mufi Hannemann, the guy who went from Hawaii to Harvard. "He didn't have to play in the Polynesia all-star game. This guy personifies team, to da max."

Looks like he's already paved the way for one; word got around yesterday that Toma was strongly considering an offer from Notre Dame, and held off on signing with UCLA.

By 7:45, Te'o was ready for breakfast and school.

"I'm glad it's over," he said.

If Manti Te'o lives up to his potential, it's only beginning—for himself, and others.