Manti Te'o is gone, but he left a promising protege behind.
By Rachel Terlep
Posted on April 3, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.
| Updated on April 3, 2013 at 2:54 p.m.
NOTRE DAME — Jarrett Grace has a leg up on many up-and-coming college football players hoping to grab a starting spot in the wake of a graduated senior.
Then again, many players don’t have someone like Manti Te’o as a mentor.
After spending his first two years with Notre Dame in the legend-sized shadow of Notre Dame’s beloved Hawaiian linebacker, Grace is poised to emerge as Te’o’s heir apparent at middle linebacker.
It’s no small task replacing someone with 212 career solo tackles, 225 assisted tackles, 114 tackles for a loss, seven interceptions and the most prolific senior season in this generation of Notre Dame football. But the 6-foot-2 1/2, 248-pound Grace plans on using lessons from Te’o himself to make the transition a bit easier.
“(I learned about) hard work and about what it takes to be successful and what it takes to earn all those accolades because he earned them for a reason,” the Cincinnati, Ohio, native said of his two years behind Te’o. “Hard work in the field and in the film room and always finding something to improve upon.”
Grace has already seen those improvements in the weight room over the spring, bulking up by 13 pounds and jumping from nine reps of 225 pounds to 22. He’s also been taking first-team reps during Notre Dame’s first six spring practice sessions.
While Grace still has to beat out fellow linebacker Kendall Moore for the starting spot and also compete with the veteran duo Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox, head coach Brian Kelly likes what he sees from the upstart junior.
“I’m pretty excited about that position,” Kelly said. “Jarrett Grace has obviously done an incredible job or I wouldn’t feel that way about it. He’s a really, really good football player. He’s going to be all over the field. Will he have seven interceptions? I’m not going in that direction. In terms of run fits, sideline to sideline, communication, he’s shown himself to be a really good player for us.”
After sitting out his first year at Notre Dame, Grace spent the majority of the 2012 campaign on special teams, while notching 12 tackles as Te’o’s hardly-utilized backup.
Calabrese says that Grace’s budding leadership was evident even on kickoff coverage. “He’s a great leader, you know, even behind Manti,” Calabrese said. “On special teams last year, he was one of the top special teams players on the team. It’s great to see him on defense now doing the same thing, being a beast out there.”
While Te’o hardly ever came off the field, Kelly expects to rotate Grace and Moore like he does Fox and Calabrese.
“In an ideal world, it’s Grace and it’s Kendall at (middle linebacker) and it’s Fox and it’s Calabrese (at ‘Will’),” Kelly said. “But we want to leave our options open if we have to slide him off the field because he’s banged up. We want to be able to slide Calabrese over there, so he’s taking some (middle) reps as well.”