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Leftovers & Links: Manti Te’o’s return to Notre Dame ‘always’ a comfortable one for him, long before recent Netflix doc

Making his first public appearance at Notre Dame in almost a decade, Irish legend Manti Te'o chokes up while getting a huge ovation from the South Bend crowd.

Manti Te’o did not need to partake in the recent two-part Netflix documentary, “Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist.” The former star Notre Dame linebacker had found enough closure in his life after the chaos and dramatics of the 2012-13 winter, in no small part because he is now married with a one-year-old daughter and a son on the way. But to some extent, he wanted to do the documentary to give back to Notre Dame, among others.

“I didn’t think that it was important in the case of I needed to tell [my story],” Te’o said before the Irish beat Cal, 24-17, on Saturday. “When Netflix first approached me with the opportunity, I told them I didn’t feel the need to. I had experienced closure in my life, and I was at peace with where my life was and what it was going to be, what it could be for the rest of my life. I’m okay.”

Instead, the 2012 unanimous All-American now two seasons removed from his last NFL action saw an opportunity to vindicate anyone who stood by him as Deadspin threw accusations at him in early 2013.

“The main thing I wanted to make sure was there are a lot of you that really supported me over a long period of time that I didn’t give the facts to back everybody up,” he said. “It was kind of my attempt at saying, ‘Hey, listen, thank you for all your support, thank you for standing by me.; …

“With all the truth coming out and with the facts coming out, everybody got to see it. It’s almost like people were like, ‘I told you he was a good dude.’”

To Te’o, Notre Dame as a whole stood in that camp long before the well-received documentary. He has been back to campus a few times in the last decade, perhaps most notably in in 2018 following the sudden death of teammate Kona Schwenke that spring. South Bend has long been as comfortable a home to Te’o as his native Hawaii is. When a stranger bought Te’o and his family dinner on Friday night, unannounced and gone before Te’o could say thank you, that underscored the welcome feeling he has always felt in the cold of Indiana.

“Home is always going to be home,” he said. “On a good day, bad day, when you go home, that’s your sanctuary, and that’s what Notre Dame is for me.”

Here Te’o — a former professional football player who earned north of $10 million in his eight-year career and now owns two businesses, who still looks like he could be on the field with about a month’s worth of training, a devout man more grounded than the vast majority of those who ever applauded or derided him — offered one piece of relatability, something nearly anyone who has set foot on campus in the last decade will immediately understand.

“The only thing that makes it feel different is there’s a lot of buildings that weren’t here when I was here,” Te’o said, adding he would have gotten lost just driving from the airport. Though, some of the construction is welcomed’ Te’o offered a rave review of the new Irish Athletics Center, more commonly known as the indoor football field.

Te’o gave an unexpected comparison when he was asked his thoughts on first-year Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman. While their defensive styles are wildly different — one “bend, don’t break” and one aggressive to a fault — Te’o sees similarities between Freeman and former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco in how their players rally for them.

“Just somebody that you will literally do anything for,” Te’o said. “I think that, as a head coach, is the most important thing you could establish with your players.

“‘I will do anything for you.’ That’s what led to all of our success in 2012 on the defensive side of the ball, because all of us guys would do anything for coach Diaco [and the rest of his defensive staff]. Now they have it as the head man, so what a great blessing and opportunity.”

Freeman asked Te’o to address the team on Friday. Still at 0-2 at that point, Te’o’s message to Notre Dame was one with more credence to it coming from someone who has experienced such public highs and lows in his life.

“That’s the greatest thing about football, it’s the greatest parallel to life,” he said he told the Irish. “It’s not going to start off the way you wanted it to. Keep going.

“Life’s not always the way that you want it to be. Keep going.

“You can’t do anything about 0-2, but you can do something about today.”

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