When Manti Te’o met the South Bend media Tuesday afternoon for the first time since losing to Alabama in early January, he was carrying a lighter load physically and mentally.
Linebacker Manti Te'o ran the 40-yard dash in 4.69 seconds in South Bend Tuesday during Notre Dame's Pro Day.
Te’o weighed in officially at 243 pounds at Notre Dame’s Pro Day, 10 pounds lighter than what was listed on the team roster at the start of the 2013 season. The bigger weight off his shoulders, though, was seeing the first break in what has been a cloudy few months for the Heisman Trophy finalist.
“If you ask anybody who went through this process this is possibly the best day ever. It’s a big, big burden off your shoulders,” he said.
Te’o’s problems began the week his Notre Dame football career ended. Draft analysts wondered if the linebacker's stock would take a significant hit after a poor performance against the Crimson Tide. The following week his character was called into question when reports that his late girlfriend never existed surfaced.
By the time he had a chance to answer a swarm of questions about the Lennay Kekua hoax at the NFL Combine, attention was shifting back to doubts about his performance on the field. Te’o clocked a disappointing 4.82-second time in the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis.
He said he worked “overtime” on improving that number during the past month and on Tuesday he shaved his results down to 4.69 seconds. Te’o didn’t bench press at the NFL Combine, but finished with 21 reps of 225 pounds Tuesday in South Bend.
His initial times from the Combine led some to tag Te’o as a two-down linebacker, unable to stay on the field in third-down passing situations. Te’o, who made seven interceptions for the Irish this fall, said those concerns never came up while meeting with 20 different NFL teams at the Combine.
“The only question they asked me about is how did I go from no interceptions to [seven],” he said. “Everybody talks about my 40 time and how it correlates with me being a two-down linebacker. I’ve been a three-down linebacker my whole life. That’s something I’m going to work to continue to do. That remains the same.”
The projected first-round pick admitted he was nervous heading into the interview process a month ago. He had heard horror stories about players being grilled by NFL brass and expected the worst case scenario for his own sessions. Te’o said he got questions about the Kekua hoax from every team he talked to, but overall he was surprised by how easy the process was.
“It was professional,” he said. “They listened to what I had to say and it was done. I was very happy the way it turned out.”
Te’o said he will stay in South Bend for the next month waiting for the upcoming NFL Draft. He said he turned down invitations to attend the NFL Draft live in New York City and will instead watch from home.
He has plans to visit some teams in the interim, but didn’t know which ones or when as of Tuesday. In the meantime, he will keep training with his old teammates and fine-tuning parts of his game. He says the past couple of months are now a distant image in the rear view mirror.
“I’m just glad that I’m out here playing football. I’m back home,” he said. “I’m with my guys; I’m around this building. That stuff is long gone.”