SOUTH BEND – Manti Teo knows this year is his last chance to directly affect Notre Dames success.
The 6-foot-2, 255-pound senior decided to return to school in December instead of entering the NFL draft with one goal in mind: help the Irish win.
Since its my senior year, I want to do this. I want to win. I want to make sure Notre Dame is back up there, Teo said. This is my only time to actually have control over that.
Once I leave here, I dont have control over that. I can say to the younger guys, call them up every week, and say, Whats going on? While Im here, while Im in that locker room and on that field, I have good control of what is going on.
Teo has taken control of the team, expanding his leadership role as the Irish prepare to open the season against Navy on Saturday in Dublin, Ireland.
The stoic native of Laie, Hawaii, has stopped holding back when he sees a teammate not doing everything he is supposed to do to help the team.
I would say without question its now at a point where he is imposing his own set of standards on others, coach Brian Kelly said. He was always a leader by example in the way he handled himself, both on and off the field, but now if somebody else is not doing it the right way, its not good enough, because it affects the way he sees his role.
And that obviously is a very positive dynamic to have on your football team. He understands pure accountability, and he holds his teammates to a high level, too.
Linebacker Dan Fox, who plays next to Teo in the middle of the defense, said he has seen good results from Teo imposing his will.
It is different when it comes from a player and not a coach. It kind of motivates you more, Fox said. He is like that on himself too. It is not just dishing out, You did this, you did that. He takes accountability for everything he does as well.
It wasnt easy for Teo to find a leadership style that suited him. He said he stopped being who he was last year in trying to be a leader, especially leading into Notre Dames home loss to USC on Oct. 22.
Teo said LeBron James comments of being true to himself and not playing the villain after the Miami Heat won the NBA title this season helped him form his leadership style.
Obviously, I wasnt a villain, but I was trying to be this rah-rah guy, just running and yelling at people, being in the center of the huddle, hitting people in the helmet; it is not me, Teo said. Im the guy who is just calm. When I need to speak, I will speak. I think the strength of that is that when I speak, my teammates know it is important.
Im just humbled to know they understand that. I wont be in their ear the whole time, but when I do have something to say, it is important. It is to help them, to help the team.
Teo has done plenty to help the team since he arrived in 2009 when he played in 12 games and had 63 tackles as a freshman. Teo had 133 tackles, with 9 1/2 for a loss, and a sack while starting all 13 games in 2010.
And last season he led the Irish in tackles (128) and tackles for loss (13 1/2 ) and had a career-high five sacks.
Teo enters the season as the No. 8 tackler in school history with 324, and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said the linebacker has the potential to be regarded as one of the best to ever play the game.
Hes got a spectacular skill set and the intangible blue-collar mentality. It is a unique combination, Diaco said. Not only is he going to be one of the very best linebackers to have played here, if not the best, one of the very best linebackers to ever play college football.