It didn’t take long for Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o to be snapped up by a team when the second round of the NFL draft began Friday night.
The San Diego Chargers traded up to take Te’o with the sixth pick (38th overall), to the cheers of the Radio City Music Hall crowd who were happy to see him taken after he had fallen from the first round because of a poor combine, an ineffective performance in the national championship game and, of course, the hoax involving a fake dead girlfriend.
Te’o chose to stay at home in Honolulu rather than attend the draft in New York City and, Sports Illustrated’s Jim Trotter reports that Te’o, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, had a jolt when he saw a California area code pop up on his cell phone, thinking “some of his friends were trying to prank him,” Trotter says.
Perhaps the greatest concern with Te’o was his slow time in the 40 at the combine. He improved it later, but that and the BCS game performance damaged his reputation as a player. Those things, coupled with his seeing his name in tabloid headlines, motivated him.
“It’s definitely made me stronger,” he said in an interview on the Chargers’ website. “Dealing with adversity, it can hurt you or make you stronger, and it definitely made me stronger. That’s how I feel right now.”
There’ll be pressure in San Diego, where the late, great Junior Seau played and Te’o knows that.
“It means I’m going to do whatever it takes to carry on that tradition that guys like him started,” he 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.”