Posted on Jan. 3, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
| Updated on Jan. 3, 2013 at 12:18 p.m.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — As Hawaii natives accustomed to poking fun at the tourist scene, Manti Te’o couldn’t believe what he was seeing from his parents.
Brian and Ottilia Te’o were videotaping their tour of New York City for their son’s Heisman Trophy award presentation. Brian Te’o was taking pictures of his food. Manti Te’o had to shake his head at the irony.
“I’m like, ‘Dad, we complain about the tourists in Hawaii, and them driving 10 miles per hour on the highway,’” Te’o said. “’What are you guys doing? It’s just water, it’s just coconut trees.’ And you’re taking pictures of lasagna.”
But Te’o’s jokes about his parents are light-hearted. In a press conference Thursday morning, Te’o turned back to the role of his parents in his development time and time again.
Te’o is the most prolific Notre Dame player in decades. He raked in an NCAA-record seven national awards last month. He has been the face of the program all year, spent countless hours in front of the camera and been dissected from every angle from every media outlet in the country.
But, even days before playing his final game at Notre Dame on the biggest stage of his career, Te’o says it’s those little moments like his dad taking pictures of lasagna that make the journey worth it.
“For me that’s a joy; that’s what life is about,” Te’o said. “It’s not about the money, it’s not about the big homes. It’s about those experiences, those little experiences that you get to share with the ones you love, and I’ll get to have that last chance as a collegiate player here in South Florida with my parents and with (defensive coordinator Bob Diaco) and my team.”
It started when Te’o was 5 years old. He and his father were driving around Laie, Hawaii, when Brian Te’o turned to him and said, “Son, when you play football, what number do you want to be?”
“And since I was 5 years old, I said, ‘Five,’” Te’o laughed.
Even though he wasn’t a coach, Brian Te’o would go to coaching clinics and pass along everything he could to his young son.
“He knew that his son was going to play football, and he would go to every coaching clinic to learn just the different techniques and just about this game they call football, so that he could be the best mentor and best teacher for his son,” Te’o said.
Those lessons, that work ethic that the Te’os instilled in their son have crossed the Pacific Ocean and most of the continental United States with him.
“That kind of commitment, that kind of love, that kind of bond, the culture that he’s from, he brings all that to the position, to the unit, to the team, to the university,” Diaco said of Te’o. “Just happy, full of life. You know, on a day where maybe as a coach you might be feeling a little down or maybe slightly distracted with the world’s pulls, Manti is easy to see, look at and see his face and immediately be energized.”
It’s been well documented that Te’o returned to Notre Dame for his final season so he can walk out of the tunnel with his parents on Senior Day.
Now he can take that a step further and win a national championship on Monday.
“I think any child’s greatest accomplishment is when they see the joy in their parents’ eyes,” Te’o said. “They’re able to do something for them that they couldn’t do before, and to repay them for the countless hours and days that they’ve sacrificed to make sure that you live your dream.”