Te'o excited for next step with Chargers

Te'o excited for next step with Chargers
April 26, 2013, 6:15 pm
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Manti Te'o's wait is over.

The San Diego Chargers selected the former Notre Dame star linebacker with the 38th overall pick in the NFL Draft Friday evening, halting a freefall that saw Te'o slide well out of the first round.

While Te'o was in the midst of making a run at the Heisman Trophy last fall, few would've expected he would fall out of the first round, although a poor showing at the Scouting Combine coupled with the Lennay Kekua saga and BCS Championship contributed to the linebacker's precipitous fall.

"I don't know, you know. I really don't know," Te'o said when asked if the events of the last four months hurt his stock. "That's a question that you've got to ask the teams.''

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said on NFL Network's broadcast of the NFL Draft Te'o's spirits were high despite his drop out of the first round.

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"Every kid wants to go in the first round but [Te'o] cheered me up when I called him," Kelly said.

Given Te'o's comments a month before the draft, that positivity wasn't a guarantee.

"When you start playing football, and at the age when you decide, man, I really want to do this for a living, draft day is the day you dream of," Te'o said in late March. "Obviously when that happens I'm going to be very happy that I got to spend it with my family, and that we finally made it. And it's the first step to a very, very long journey."

Questions about Te'o's ability to be a three-down linebacker persisted over the last few months, and his slow 40-yard dash time at the Scouting Combine also lowered his stock. The whole fake-dead-girlfriend thing probably hurt him, too, although the extent of that impact is a little harder to pinpoint.

"I did expect to go in the first round," Te'o told local reporters on a conference call Friday. "But things happened and all it did was give me more motivation to get better."

When Te'o was picked, comparisons were immediately drawn to the late Junior Seau, a Polynesian who starred for the Chargers in the 1990s and 2000s. Te'o hopes to follow in Seau's footsteps in San Diego.

"I’m going to do whatever it takes to carry on that tradition that guys like him started," Te'o said. "I want to make him proud. He was a dominant linebacker, and that’s what I want to be. This team has a history of great linebackers and I want to be a part of that tradition."

For Te'o, San Diego is a good fit. The Chargers play a 3-4 defense, in which Te'o played at Notre Dame as a mike linebacker. Te'o's experience playing inside in a 3-4 scheme played a role in San Diego selecting him.

"He’s a great kid. We did a lot of work on Te’o and I’ve seen him for a number of years," Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said. "He loves football. He’s passionate about it. He loves to practice. He loves to play. He’s a lot like D.J. (Fluker) in that regard. He’ll bring that to us.”

It's as close to Hawaii as he can get in the NFL, and the media attention won't be as frenzied as it would've been had he been drafted by, say, Chicago or New York. So, for Te'o, that's about as ideal of a situation in which he could've found himself.

"It's a perfect scenario. My parents can come and watch, I can go home, it's San Diego," Te'o said. "We're all excited. I can't be any happier. Just looking forward to getting up there and getting this whole thing started.''