“It was surreal,” Polian said, calling the recruitment “a once-in-a-generation-type story.”
There were the long flights, the recruiting calls made at 2 a.m. in South Bend, the little things. But in the end, Polian said, “it paid off, because we felt like this is the kind of kid that is wired for this place.”
Polian still, once or twice a week, gets thank you e-mails from Notre Dame fans.
But it still came down to Te’o’s decision.
Te’o’s parents had challenged him to make the choice a matter of prayer, and to follow through on whatever answer he received. The answer wasn’t what Te’o was expecting. It wasn’t even necessarily what he wanted, in his heart.
But he followed his faith.
“I think what people are not taking into account is the amount of courage that it took for this young man to say, ‘I’m going to go to Indiana, I’m going to go to a place where it’s not always going to be easy, but in the end I believe that it’s what is best for my life,’ ” Polian said.
Feeling of community
Te’o’s parents knew he would be successful. They didn’t know it would be like this.
Heck, Brian Te’o said, he didn’t even think Manti believed it would be like this.
The linebacker has 87 tackles this season, nearly twice as many as any teammate. He is not just one of the best defensive players in the country, he’s one of the best players overall.
And yet, as grief has marred what should be the best season of his career, he has stood by his teammates, and they have stood by him. But not just his teammates. Not just his friends. The entire Notre Dame community has massed behind him.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, really,” Swarbrick said. “The mutual embrace is so strong. It’s not just that the athlete gives himself to the community, but that the community finds ways to demonstrate how much affection they have for the athlete.”
It was never more apparent than on Sept. 22, as the Fighting Irish faced Michigan, hours after his girlfriend’s burial. As Te’o noted, they closed the casket at 9:01 in California, as the Irish were going through their walkthrough. He saw the time. He took a moment.
That night, Notre Dame responded. In the stands, thousands of fans were wearing leis. They had them around their necks. They were swinging them on their fingers. They stood out, a tangible show of love and support. It was an effort undertaken by them, not by the school, not by the athletic department.
“That’s when I knew,” Te’o said. “It was the confirmation that, ‘Hey, that leap of faith you took four years ago, this is why you came here. This is why I sent you here.’ ”
Back in Hawaii, his parents, Ottilia and Brian, watched the broadcast, tears escaping their eyes.
“We realized that Notre Dame not only appreciated him as a football player, they appreciated him as a man,” Brian said. “They appreciated him as Manti.”