Notre Dame was on the outskirts of the elite when the season started. With three straight wins to start the season for the first time since 2002, including Saturday's dominating performance against Michigan State, the Irish's stock is rising.
For linebacker Manti Te'o, this game was about far more than just Notre Dame and Michigan State. It was about finding respite from a week that was, frankly speaking, nothing short of hell for the senior.
Te'o lost his grandmother and girlfriend within 24 hours of each other last week. Head coach Brian Kelly told reporters last Thursday that Te'o would be on the field for the Michigan State game.
"He lost some people very close to him, and it's obviously taken a toll on him," Kelly said. "Our players have been there for him, and there has been great support.
"He wants to be with his teammates. He wants to be with his people that care about him. He's a strong man, and he's going through a tough time, but he'll rise to the occasion."
In the most difficult moment of his personal life, Te'o was instrumental for arguably the biggest win Notre Dame has had in the Kelly era.
It is a sad and unfortunate situation that no one should ever have to deal with. It's also sad that it took something like this for the Notre Dame star to finally get the recognition from fans and the media that he deserves.
One of the biggest things that Kelly has done since taking over at Notre Dame is establish a tone on the defensive side of the ball that allows the Irish to keep games close when the offense isn't firing on all cylinders.
Te'o has been front and center for everything that has gone on with this team the last three years. He has 348 total tackles in his four-year career thus far, according to College Football Stats, and is always in the middle of big plays.
Even in his darkest hour, Te'o was able to show the world why he is one of the best defensive players—not just linebackers—in America right now.
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