Manti Te’o has had an emotional couple of weeks, but he pulled himself together in thanking Notre Dame students and fans Friday night at a rally leading up to Saturday’s game against Michigan.
Last week, in the span of two days, Te’o lost his maternal grandmother, who succumbed to cancer, and his girlfriend, who passed away after a long battle with leukemia.
Notre Dame officials gave him the choice to stay with the team or return to Hawaii to be with loved ones. But Te’o stayed with the Fighting Irish and during a big win against Michigan State made 12 tackles, pointing to the sky after each one.
He said afterward that he often thought of his grandmother, Annette Santiago, and girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, during the game.
“Football allowed me to be in a little realm, a little world where I know I can honor them by the way I play,” Te’o said.
Friday night on Notre Dame’s campus, with “Touchdown Jesus” and the Hesburgh Library as the backdrop, Fighting Irish fans, many of them wearing Hawaiian leis as a gesture of support, chanted “Manti Te’o, Manti Te’o” as the senior linebacker took the microphone from Coach Brian Kelly.
As Te’o paused trying to keep his emotions in check, one fan yelled, “We love you!”
After composing himself for a few more seconds, Te’o started, “I love you guys.”
Pausing again, he then said, “Four years ago, I made the decision to come here and I didn’t really know why. It’s times like these I know why.”
Te’o continued fighting back tears as he thanked his teammates, coaches, students and fans for the support they had shown him and his family.
“I love you guys,” Te’o concluded. “Go Irish!”
Notre Dame plays Michigan Saturday night in South Bend, Ind., a game that will be televised on Channel 4 in Los Angeles.