A Full Timeline of Manti Te'o's Road to the NFL Draft

Vincent FrankCorrespondent IApril 24, 2013

A Full Timeline of Manti Te'o's Road to the NFL Draft

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    It seems as though Manti Te'o has been in the spotlight of the national media since his former head coach Charlie Weis was roaming the sidelines with Bill Belichick in New England. 

    As a 5-star recruit from Hawaii, Te'o spurned offers from USC, Oregon, Tennessee and UCLA to join what was then a downtrodden Notre Dame program in South Bend (via Rivals.com). For Te'o, it was all about making his mark in one of the most heralded college football programs in the history of the game. 

    For nearly four years, Te'o personified what it meant to be a student athlete. He was a leader on the field, within the community and in the classroom. He helped rebuild a program that was about as American as apple pie. 

    Then the "Catfish" scandal broke. It was a surreal ending to what had been a surreal four-year career for Te'o in South Bend. The media jumped all over a scandal that could have only been created in the social media age. For many, the entire background of this scandal was just too much to fully grasp. We jumped to conclusions, made jokes about "catfish" and created some of the most mind-numbing memes in the history of this new digital media era. 

    For all intents and purposes, Te'o became a willing victim of the 21st century. His success on the field led to this being placed under the microscope and the end result represented one of the largest media firestorms in the recent history of the sports world. 

    Today's article is going to focus on the rise and fall (and possible rise again) of Te'o as he prepares to enter the National Football League and morph from an amateur athlete to a professional. 

Preseason Hype

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    With expectations comes hype. After being selected by the Associated Press as a second-team All American as a junior in 2011, Te'o came into this past season fully on the radar of the national media (via CBS Sports). 

    After all, Te'o had recorded 320 tackles, 27.5 for loss and seven sacks during his first three seasons with Notre Dame. 

    He was expected to take his game to the next level and become one of the best all-around defenders in the nation. 

    The preseason accolades were definitely there. 

    Te'o was named to the first team preseason All-American team by the Associated Press, was on the Bednarik Award watch list as the top defender in the nation and was named a Senior Class ACE Award finalist. 

    The honors didn't stop there, but you get the point. 

    The only other senior on the defensive side of the ball to draw as much attention as Te'o on a national level in the recent history of college football was Ndamukong Suh with Nebraska back in 2009. 

Early-Season Success

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    Notre Dame wasn't ranked in any of the major national polls heading into the 2012 season. It started the year under the radar against Navy in Ireland. Following a 50-10 drubbing of the Midshipmen, many came to the conclusion that the Irish were up to their old tricks by taking on less-than-stellar competition early before getting trounced against better opponents later in the year. 

    It wasn't a ridiculous conclusion to draw, but the performance we saw from Te'o in that opening game had to be seen as a sign of something to come. The talented linebacker recorded eight tackles and an interception in that opening game. 

    Still, we wanted to see more from the linebacker and his team. 

    Notre Dame would go on to run off four consecutive wins in the next four weeks against multiple ranked teams, including Michigan and Michigan State. Its defense yielded an average of just seven points per game during that span. 

    For his part, Te'o put up 40 tackles, two interceptions and five passes defended in those four games. He was starting to draw more national attention. 

    Still, we wanted to see more. 

    Following a controversial overtime victory over Stanford and an uninspired 17-14 victory over BYU, the Irish stood at 7-0 and ranked No. 5 in the nation. 

    It was, however, concluded that their next game against the Oklahoma Sooners would expose them as the frauds they were. 

    Te'o wasn't having any of it. 

Rise to National Prominence

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    Despite being undefeated and ranked No. 5 in the nation, Notre Dame found itself 10.5 point underdogs against the Oklahoma Sooners in Norman. 

    It was a nationally televised late October game with what seemed to be national championship implications, but the Irish still weren't getting the respect they deserved. 

    As a passionate leader of this team, Te'o had to have taken offense to the underdog mentality. After all, Notre Dame had a perfect record and was in the BCS conversation. 

    The All-American linebacker let his talking take place on the field. He recorded 11 tackles, one sack and sealed Notre Dame's 30-13 victory with a late-game interception of Landry Jones. 

    Following the game, Te'o had this to say (via ESPN): 

    We knew what we could do. Today's no surprise....We knew that if we came to work, we came into today with confidence and everybody doing their job that we would be fine. I'm glad we came out the right way.


    For Te'o and the Irish it was a coming out party of sorts. The victory catapulted Notre Dame to No. 3 in the nation and set it on a clear path to play for the national championship just a bit over a month later. 

    On a personal level, Te'o was actually starting to gain traction as a possible Heisman Trophy finalist, a feat that is unheard of for a defensive player. 

Named a Heisman Trophy Finalist

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    Just mere weeks after Notre Dame completed a dream regular season with a 22-13 victory over USC in Southern California, Te'o was announced as a finalist for the 2012 Heisman Trophy Award. 

    He became one of only 16 defensive players to be a finalist (excluding Charles Woodson) in the heralded 78-year history of the award (via CBS Sports). 

    Despite going up against two quarterbacks at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City, there were some who believed Te'o stood a chance of becoming the first pure defensive player to win the award. 

    In the end, Te'o finished a close second to Johnny Manziel. The Texas A&M quarterback finished with 2,029 total votes while Te'o was right behind him with 1,706 votes (via Sporting News). 

    The Notre Dame linebacker became the highest vote recipient for a defensive player in the history of the Heisman Trophy. 

    It appeared nothing could unravel the hopes and aspirations of a talented young man who was about to lead his team on the field against a mighty Alabama Crimson Tide team for a chance to bring home a BCS National Championship.

    Then talent took over...

BCS National Championship Game Meltdown

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    Even as a Notre Dame fan and someone that gets chills down his spine when "rally sons of Notre Dame" glares in the stadium in South Bend, I couldn't find a single reason why the Irish stood a chance against the heavily favored Alabama Crimson Tide in the BCS National Championship Game this past January. 

    The talent difference between these two historical powerhouses was obvious and everyone knew it. 

    Still, Notre Dame had to show up on the field in an attempt to avoid embarrassing itself. 

    That didn't happen. 

    From the outset, Notre Dame was completely outmatched in a 42-14 whitewash at the hands of Alabama. The Crimson tide put up 529 yards as Eddie Lacy ran over, through and around Notre Dame's previously stout defense. 

    For Te'o, it had to be the single worst performance of a stellar career. He missed a ton of tackles, couldn't get off blocks too well and just seemed overmatched against the NFL-caliber offensive players that Alabama threw out there. 

    This was the beginning of a downward spiral that has been well documented since. In scouting reports and expert opinions over the course of the draft process, Te'o's performance against Alabama became a rallying cry for those who don't believe he has what it takes to make it in the NFL. 

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller even took to Twitter to question the lackluster performance from Te'o on a national stage: 

    Te'o struggling tonight vs. run. Like I said, not an elite prospect. Poised for 15-20 range in Rd 1

     

    In fact, Miller was a bit liberal in his judgement of Te'o. Other experts had knee-jerk reactions to what was admittedly a horrible performance from the NFL draft prospect. 

    In an article just a couple days after Notre Dame's embarrassing loss to Alabama, Doug Farrar of Yahoo! explained just how Te'o's struggles would impact his draft stock. 

    ...But when it comes to the NFL, and what the pro game requires, Te'o opened a Pandora's Box that the higher league will have to explore. He now has the scouting combine, and the rest of the pre-draft process, to put those concerns to rest.

     

    As Te'o has since stated, "one game will not define (his) my career." 

    It is, however, what Farrar went on to say in that article four months ago that had more wide-ranging ramifications, at least from a media perspective. 

    His character is not in question -- the way Te'o was able to keep his season on track after the deaths of his girlfriend and grandmother in September speaks so very well of his determination and love of the game. 

     

    As you already know, that's where this story gets started...

Catfish Scandal

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    Early in the 2012 season I heard Mike Mayock and his NBC broadcast partner Tom Hammon mention the tragedy surrounding Manti Te'o's girlfriend and grandmother. 

    It was a tragic story and seemed to inspire the linebacker on the field. It was also a story that has since been proven to be false. 

    Without getting into who is to blame here, let me give you a rundown of the "Catfish" scandal as it played out. Of course you already know most of what I am about to type, but for those who have lived under a rock for the last four months, here it goes.

    In the fall of 2012, Te'o went public about to the media indicating that both his girlfriend and grandmother passed away on September 11, 2012. Te'o had indicated that his girlfriend, a Stanford student, had passed away from leukemia (via wbst.com) 

    I don't like cancer at all. I lost both my grandparents and my girlfriend to cancer.

     

    Apparently, Te'o made these statements two days after he had already learned that his girlfriend wasn't real and he was the victim of a hoax at the hands of a friend, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo (via Deadspin). 

    This led to many questions. 

    If Te'o was indeed a victim of a hoax, how could he actually be in love with someone he hadn't met in real life? Why would he go on record indicating that his girlfriend had passes two days after learning it was a hoax? 

    The media absolutely jumped on this topic for shock effect, but really didn't have a baseline to grasp the full details of the growing scandal. It was, in my opinion, shock-jock reporting at its absolute worse. 

    Here is a young man, who seemed to be duped by someone he trusted, but also made the conscious decision to mislead the public. Was it warranted for the media to go on an all-out assault on his character? I guess that's a question better reserved for another article. 

    As it is, Te'o struggled with formulating a response to the scandal. This led many people to question that he was a willing part of the hoax, not an innocent bystander. 

    Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com wrote an article immediately after this story broke indicating that it would impact Te'o's draft stock: 

    At the end of the day, NFL teams won't be as concerned about the bizarre details of this unprecedented saga as the fascinated American public. However, they absolutely will be concerned if Te'o himself turns out to be anything other than the player that his coaches and support staff at Notre Dame have described him to be.

     

    A fraud? A fake? I wasn't ready to make that assumption at the time and am even more unwilling to do so today. 

    Eventually, Te'o did formulate a long-awaited response.

     

Response from Manti Te'o

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    A long five days after news broke about the hoax, Te'o finally went public in response. He spoke to Jeremy Schaap to defend himself on a national stage for the first time. 

    The following is a brief description of Te'o's response: 

    Te'o admitted no wrongdoing to the hoax itself, but did indicate that he "tailored" his story in order to make others believe that he had actually met Lennay Kekua prior to her death. 

    The Notre Dame product went on to blame others for the hoax, but did take responsibility for misleading the public. 

    From Schaap's interview with Te'o:

    Two guys and a girl are responsible for the whole thing," Te'o said. Asked who they are, he said: "I don't know. According to Ronaiah, Ronaiah's one.

     

    For many in the general public and around the media circles, Te'o's "confession" wasn't enough. There were too many holes in his story. Too many open ends. 

    Bleacher Report lead writer Dan Levy had the following to say about Te'o's interview with Schaap in an article immediately after it was made public. 

    Te'o told Schaap that when people hear all the facts, they'll know. It will be nice at some point to actually hear, you know, all the facts. Until then, there are too many questions to blindly believe Te'o's side of the story. This one-on-one, no-camera conversation may have done more harm than good.

     

    That's the skeptical side of the argument. Speaking in more general terms, why not believe Te'o before jumping to conclusions? What about letting the process play out before making assumptions? 

    Levy went on to make many valid points, a lot of which have since been proven correct. The story here is that Te'o wasn't the mastermind behind the hoax, but he definitely did play a role in it becoming a national story and impacting his post-Notre Dame draft stock. 

    Speaking of draft stock, Te'o's performance at the combine did more damage in the mind of scouts ane experts than this hoax did.

     

    All quotes from Te'o's initial interview with Jeremy Schaap can be found here on ESPN.com

Postseason Fall, Combine Performance and Pro Day Rebound

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    Our very own Jesse Reed had the following to say about Te'o's perceived lackluster performance at the NFL Scouting Combine:

    After all the hype surrounding Te'o as a player, his combine performance can only be described as disappointing.

    He displayed below-average explosiveness and speed, which doesn't translate to a first-round grade. Combined with the bad tape he put together in the title game against Alabama, NFL scouts will have to really do some deep digging to determine his true worth.

     

    As someone who watched nearly every single game Te'o played in four seasons with Notre Dame, I can honestly state that his pedestrian 40 time wasn't a big deal. He isn't going to be a sideline-to-sideline linebacker in the NFL. Instead, Te'o will earn his keep between the hashes against the run, acting as a quarterback from the middle of the field, displaying leadership at linebacker and utilizing solid tackling technique. 

    Reed's point still does stand because scouts wanted to see an above-average performance in the generic drills, and Te'o failed to provide that. 

    Overall, Te'o finished in the bottom seven of the combine among linebackers in the 40-yard dash, running a pedestrian 4.82. Each linebacker who ran a worse time than Te'o in that generic drill is considered no better than a mid-round pick 

    Te'o also finished third-to-last among linebackers with a 113.0" broad jump. 

    He also performed extremely poorly in the position-specific drills, showing a lack of fluidity in the hips and a below-average technique. 

    Overall, it was a horrible performance for the former Notre Dame standout. 

    Te'o did have a chance to improve his draft stock at Notre Dame's pro day and was a bit more impressive. 

    Doug Farrar of Yahoo! filed the following report immediately after Te'o's pro day performance last month. 

     Te'o rebounded well by running a 40 at Notre Dame's indoor facility that was timed unofficially between 4.71 and 4.75 by several sources on the scene.

    It's not the end-all and be-all for a player who still has some weak spots on tape, but the fact that Te'o overcame all the distractions he's encountered in the last few months is a sign of encouragement.

     

    To avoid playing both ends of the spectrum, I will again indicate that speed isn't a strength for Te'o, so upping his performance in the 40 didn't really matter too much to me from a scouting perspective. 

    Chris Burke of CNNSI had a different take on the draft process as it relates to Te'o. 

    The real test for Te’o during this pre-draft process, ever since the details of his “relationship” with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo came to light, was how he would perform in one-on-one interviews with teams. While a Pro Day allows Te’o to show he’s gained a little speed or strength here and there, his showings in those interviews — be it talking about his “catfishing” scandal or breaking down Xs and Os — is what will make or break his draft stock.

     

    I think we can all agree on this. If Te'o performed well in the one-on-one interviews, he will end up going in the first round. Scouts already knew what he excelled at on the field and what he struggled with. The larger point here is how teams perceive the linebacker in terms of his mentality and character. 

    A lackluster 40 time changes nothing. 

Where He Stands Now

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    Manti Te'o will end up going off the board somewhere between the 19th and 32nd pick in the 2013 NFL draft tomorrow. He will be a first-round pick and have to face the wrath of what has been an unrelenting media firestorm. 

    After months of controversy and questions about Te'o the player and Te'o the individual, his dream of playing professionally will ultimately be realized. 

    That being said, the scandal that plagued Te'o over the last four months will not be going away anytime soon. It will assuredly follow him through his entire NFL career and he has to be resigned to that fact. 

    I will say one thing. You don't accomplish what Te'o did at Notre Dame without being a darn good overall football player. You don't receive the most amount of votes in Heisman balloting for a pure defensive player in the history of the award without being a darn good player. 

    Whoever gets Te'o tomorrow will be taking on a lot of baggage, but they will also be bringing in someone that will add a lot to the team on the field. 

    A lackluster 40 time or the media scrutiny that followed his girlfriend hoax will not change that. Expect to see Te'o starring in the NFL for the next 10 years, but also expect the surreal path that he has taken to the NFL to become paramount in conversations moving forward. 

    After all, it's like nothing we have ever seen before. 

     

    Vincent Frank is an NFL featured columnist here at Bleacher Report. Vincent is the head sports editor over at eDraft, co-host of Draft Sports Radio, which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. ET, and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus.

    Go ahead and give him a follow on Twitter @VincentFrankNFL.