Manti Te'o: Mature beyond his years

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Manti Te'o: Mature beyond his years

Notre Dame fans, every single one of them, should take a moment and give thanks...to Charlie Weis.

For all of his shortcomings, and the sky-high expectations of a Knute Rockne-Lou Holtz dynasty that never happened -- or came close to happening while he was the head coach at Notre Dame -- Weis did bring one masterful prize to South Bend; a certain Heisman Trophy candidate that has helped put the Golden Domers back on the college football map.

All hail, Manti Te'o.

The senior linebacker is not your typical college football player, nor is he your average human being.

Te'o is special -- in the way he plays and thinks, walks and talks, lives and breathes.

That's one reason why Weis and former Notre Dame assistant Brian Polian made so many trips to Hawaii in 2008 and 2009 hoping to land Te'o, then the top defensive high schooler in the nation.

How many visits did they make?

"Too many," Te'o says with a laugh. "It was at the point where I told coach Polian, 'You don't have to come this often. You can just call me. You don't have to come and show up.' But it showed their dedication and it paid off. It really did pay off."

Certainly for Notre Dame. Not so much for Weis and Polian. They were fired after Te'o's freshman season in 2009.

Now three years later, Te'o is one of the best college players in the country, the Irish are undefeated at 9-0, and they are knocking on the door for a possible national championship -- what Weis and Polian were going after when they piled up all those miles flying across the Pacific Ocean.

"It would be the perfect ending to this great chapter in my life," Te'o says. "But national champions understand that it's one game at a time, one day at a time, getting better everyday. To think of that, and think of being known as a national champion at the end of the season, yeah it's a dream come true."

On the football field, Te'o plays like a valiant warrior, with a heart of a lion, undaunted by the chaos around him. Nothing scares him.

But what about off the field? What does he fear, if anything?

"I fear failure. That's my biggest fear is failure," he admits. "It's not being able to provide for my family. It's not bringing honor to my family. I don't fear anything else. I don't fear any individual. I just fear letting people down, and people that depend on me the most."

For Te'o, that's his family.

"My family is my prized possession," he says pointedly. "My family is everything."

But in September, Te'o lost two integral parts to his world. His grandmother and girlfriend passed away -- just six hours apart. His grandmother succumbed to cancer. His girlfriend died after a long battle with leukemia.

The depth of Te'o's grief is deep, and so is his mind, which exhibits the maturity and wisdom of a man twice or even three times his age.

"Although I may not be able to see them and hear them, I have faith that I will see them again," Te'o explains. "It paints this world in a whole different picture where you understand what life is really about. Yeah, football is great, all the winning is great, but at the end of the day we're all going to pass on, and what I'm going to take with me is who I am as a person, and all the lives I've had an impact on. I hope and pray everyday that I have an impact on somebody in a positive way."

Te'o is a religious man. He says his Mormon faith helped him overcome losing both loved ones so close to each other.

They might be gone, but he feels both women around him.

"All the time. I specifically sense my girlfriend around me whenever I say hi to another young lady. I feel somebody just saying, 'Who is that? Why are you saying hi?' But I sense them. I feel them whenever I'm alone. I'm feeling them telling me that everything is going to be OK."

If you were to break open Te'o's DNA, you would find all the necessary genes of a leader. He's a chief in the Notre Dame locker room and the commander of the defense. However, what makes Te'o an even greater leader is the humility he brings to his role as Notre Dame nobility.

"I think if you ask the good leaders, they won't acknowledge themselves as leaders," he says. "I don't acknowledge myself as a leader. I just acknowledge myself as somebody who's trying to win."

Te'o knows the name of every walk-on. How many college stars can do that? Or even name one?

And you can forget about being a macho football player. He has no reservations about expressing his love for his teammates.

"I know every one of my teammates. I know what they like, I know what they don't like, and as a leader of my team, I need to know that. I need to know that so I can relate to each of them," Te'o says. "If my guys can't trust me, if my guys can't love me, and I can't love them, we won't be very good. When you have that dynamic, having guys playing for the guy next to them instead of for themselves, special things start to happen."

They already have, thanks to Te'o.

And thanks to Charlie Weis.

He might be miles away in the rearview mirror, but the distance he and Polian flew to get Manti to Notre Dame is probably Charlie's greatest victory.

Te'o is proving that he's a winner every day of his life.

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Fire dominant against Orlando for seventh straight home win

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Are the Chicago Fire still getting better?

The Fire entered Saturday’s match against Orlando unbeaten in eight straight MLS games, yet showed a level of domination the team hasn’t had for extended periods this year. David Accam scored two goals in the first eight minutes and finished with a hat trick to lead the Fire to a 4-0 win against the visiting Lions on Saturday.

Accam’s first goal was a beauty in the third minute. It came at the end of a 17-pass buildup, which started with a Matt Polster throw in. In the end it was Polster hitting a low cross to Accam, who scored with a pretty backheel from five yards out.

“I think the main thing from the group is that we’re just all moving off the ball," Polster said. "Our movement has been very good in terms of we’re always finding the open man. We’ve been creating a lot of space for each other... I think that’s kind of what we’re trying to build, a lot of running off the ball and creating a lot of space for each other.”

Five minutes later Accam had another goal after Bastian Schweinsteiger’s long ball put Accam all alone with goalkeeper Joe Bendik in the box. Accam dribbled around Bendik and scored.

That incredibly fast start seemed to set the tone for the show. The Fire were not only dominating the game, but they were seemingly having fun while doing so. There were plenty of flicks and tricks and creative set plays on display.

Nemanja Nikolic added one in the second half, on an Accam assist. Accam finished off his hat trick, which he said he believed was the first of his professional career, in the 63rd minute on a penalty kick.

Nikolic now has 14 goals to add to his league-leading total. Even though he is in the running for the Golden Boot, there was no question who was taking the penalty kick.

“I just took the ball and he gave it to me," Accam said. "We share responsibilities with the penalties every time. I know he wants to score every game. For me I try to help him to score goals and I’m glad I did today.”

The Fire (10-3-4, 34 points) remained within a point of Toronto (10-2-5, 35 points) for the best record in the league and reached double-digit wins for the first time since 2013. The regular season is halfway finished.

“We have to understand that this is going to be a long season and we still have to look for the peak of our performance by the end of the season,” coach Veljko Paunovic said.

Orlando (7-6-5, 26 points) was without its leading scorer (Cyle Larin), was coming off a midweek game at Seattle and has one win in its past 11 MLS matches. Even with that, the Lions are in a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and the Fire thoroughly dominated.

Orlando didn’t have a shot on target and the Fire had plenty of chances to score more than four. There’s another half to the season remaining, but this Fire team is coming off arguably its best result of the season (last week’s win at New England) and seems to be still improving.

At the beginning of the season, simply ending the team's five-year playoff drought would have been viewed as a minor success. Now, midfielder Dax McCarty, who is set to leave with the U.S. national team following this game for the Gold Cup, says the Fire are hoping for bigger things.

“The mentality is certainly now, let’s not just make the playoffs because that’s not good enough," McCarty said. "Sure, we want to make the playoffs, but we want to win the Open Cup, we want to win MLS Cup, we want to compete for the Supporters’ Shield. Is that realistic to compete for all three, why not? Why not us? I think that’s our motto and our attitude in the locker room right now. Why can’t we win every game. Clearly MLS is a long, hard grind and you’re going to have off days, but we step on the field every day now to compete and win games.”