Teo (pronounced TAY-oh, first name is MAN-tie) decided to follow the example of his former teammate, receiver Michael Floyd, in returning to South Bend for his senior year despite having the talent to leave early for the NFL. Floyd parlayed a very good final campaign with the Irish into a first-round draft slot, as he was selected 13th overall by the Arizona Cardinals; thats something Teo also hopes to emulate this April, and winning multiple national awards and finishing second in Heisman voting doesn’t hurt that goal.
It was a recruiting coup for Notre Dame to land Teo, a consensus top ten national recruit, the Sporting News High School Athlete of the Year and USA Todays Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. And the fact Teo did not take a two-year service Mormon mission after high school meant he got a chance to use his ability as a true freshman, playing in every game for the Irish and earning the starting nod for 10. His 63 tackles that season included 5.5 for loss, figures he easily bested as a 13-game starter his sophomore year (133 tackles, 9.5 for loss; his 21 stops against Stanford tied for the most in the FBS in 2010). Teo found his name on many All-American lists (including Walter Camp and AP second teams) and was a finalist for the Butkus Award and Lott Trophy after accumulating 128 tackles, 13.5 for loss and five sacks.
In 2012, Te’o took home even more hardware after registering 113 tackles on 13 starts, 5.5 went for a loss including 1.5 sacks. He added
some production in coverage, hauling in seven interceptions and four pass breakups. The long list of achievements Te’o won ranges from the Nagurski Award, the Lombardi Trophy, the Bednarik Award, the Maxwell Trophy and named the Walter Camp National Player of the Year. Most of all, Te’o dealt with a multitude of off-field events, including the death of his grandmother and the girlfriend hoax scandal.
Aggressive middle linebacker with a thick overall build. Vocal leader on the off the field, communicates the call and moves teammatesinto place when necessary. Downhill player who recognizes plays and closes quickly. Provides pop as a tackler, capable of thumping the ballcarrier and wrapping up to secure the stop. Aware run-stopper between the tackles, finds the ball and can mirror backs to prevent cutbacks. Stops backs momentum on first contact and drive them backwards. Takes on linemen and fullbacks, can bounce or use his hands to rip off and make a stop. Hustles to recover from cut blocks, work through double teams at the second level. Shows enough movement skills to follow stretch plays to either sideline and cover running backs in the flat. Drops to the first-down marker, but is able to close on receivers and backs over the middle to prevent yards after the catch. Attacks gaps as a delayed blitzer, will try to work past the shoulder of linemen picking him up. High character player who performs community service and became an Eagle Scout in 2008.
Only average height for the position. Linemen and bigger tight ends have a size and length advantage, can ride him out of plays. Backpedal is high and stiff on his drops. Must prove he has the short-area quickness and long speed to stay with tight ends and receivers in coverage. Takes false steps on play action and misdirection; has only adequate recovery speed. Blunt instrument as a tackler, slips off some tackles when trying to make a big hit. Comes into ballcarriers with his head down at times, allowing them to elude him.
Teo has become the All-American middle linebacker everyone expected coming out of high school, receiving high marks for his character and leadership ability. After some suggested he could be one of the top picks in April’s draft, Te’o took a step back against a very good Alabama offensive line during the BCS National Championship. As a hammer between the tackles, the Irish star will be a great inside backer for any 4-3 team, but some may question his ability to reach edge plays or get over blocks in time.