Chicago Sun-Times
with Mark Lazerus

Weis Lands Big One! --- Te'o

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What was considered by most experts to be a solid if unspectacular Notre Dame recruiting class improved dramatically when Manti Te'o, widely considered to be one of the best defensive prospect in the nation, chose the Fighting Irish over USC and UCLA on Wednesday.

"He's a great kid from a great family," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. "We spent a lot of energy getting over to Hawaii to get this kid and are absolutely delighted he joined us."

The 6-foot-2, 225 pounder from Punahou School in Honolulu --- President Barack Obama's alma mater --- won the Butkus Award as the nation's top prep linebacker last season and is considered to be Notre Dame's highest-rated defensive prospect since the 1980s.   

Te'o had 129 tackles, 11 sacks and three forced fumbles as a senior. He also had three interceptions (one of which was returned for a touchdown) and a blocked punt (which was also returned for a touchdown).  

Te'o's official campus visit came on a weekend when the Irish were upset by Syracuse --- the first time Notre Dame had ever lost to an opponent with eight losses. To make matters worse, fans pelted Irish players with snowballs during the game and Te'o retreated to a recruiting lounge at halftime to escape frigid temperatures, leading to speculation that Te'o would likely choose a warm-weather campus on the West Coast that was closer to his home.

"Think about it --- a kid from Hawaii comes to the Syracuse game in the snow and ends up committing," Weis said. "It's remarkable." 

Evidently, Te'o's faith played a role in his decision. Weis let Te'o know that he would hold his scholarship if he decided to go on a Mormon mission after his freshman season. 

"It would be hypocritical for a faith-based school not to honor someone's religion," Weis said.

"Coach Charlie Weis is a great man," Te'o told ESPNU. "Very supportive of my faith. He made it clear that if I decide to serve a mission, it will be possible.

"He's supported everything that my family has ever wished."

Te'o is the type of linebacker that USC has typically landed under Pete Carroll and the type of big-play defender that Notre Dame has lacked in recent years. 

Weis hopes he can do for the defense what Jimmy Clausen did for the offense --- lure other blue-chip recruits to the program in coming years.

There has been speculation that Notre Dame's decision to participate in the Hawaii Bowl was largely an effort to further impress the Hawaii native. Not true, according to Weis, who said Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick ran different bowl scenarios past the team before the players voted for the one they preferred. Weis admitted that gaining a recruiting edge with Te'o was in the forefront of his mind when the Honolulu game was chosen but doubted that it crossed the minds of the players who had the biggest impact on the decision.

That said, Weis said he received numerous text messages from current members of the team excited about Te'o joining the program. 

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This page contains a single entry by Neil Hayes published on February 4, 2009 11:58 AM.

Bryant Young Named Grad Assistant was the previous entry in this blog.

Weis Signing Day Press Conference Transcript is the next entry in this blog.

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