SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Growing up an avid USC fan, Manti Te'o had dreamed of one day playing for the Trojans. But when it came down to making a final decision, the linebacker out of Laie, Hawaii chose Notre Dame for reasons he could never quite put his finger on. He just knew that this team and this school felt right.
But he felt Notre Dame's 13-6 win over No. 18 Michigan Saturday was a fitting example why.
It's been nearly three weeks since Te'o lost his grandmother to a long illness and his girlfriend to an ongoing battle with leukemia. But despite the tragic loss, the senior linebacker hasn't missed a beat, displaying his strength, passion and commitment to his his team and the place he's called home.
"Four years ago when I decided to come here, I didn't know why. It's starting to unveil itself why, why I felt that I was told to come here. I can't thank my team enough. I can't thank the students and just the fan base around the world, Notre Dame and non-Notre Dame fans. They've been really great," an emotional Te'o said.
Fans wore Hawaiian leis around their necks and broke out into a booming cheer for Te'o after the game, creating a moment on the field that exuded the support and compassion the Notre Dame faithful have for him.
"You know, it's just very humbling for me and my family," Te'o added. "And I appreciate all the love and support that my family and my girlfriend's family has been getting."
Te'o played a key role in Notre Dame's first victory over Michigan since 2008, recording eight tackles, intercepting two passes and putting constant pressure on Denard Robinson, who threw four picks and fumbled once.
But when it comes to coach Brian Kelly's level of respect for him, it isn't just about the numbers.
"He's the guy in there. I mean, it all revolves around him, his personality, his strength. He's a special guy. Take advantage of him while you've got him now, because I've never been around a kid like that."