Sports Out West

Manti Te’o finds oasis of football, support in San Diego

Photo Credit: Michael C. Jones / Sports Out West

San Diego Chargers rookie linebacker Manti Te’o is reinventing himself as a professional in Southern California for all the right reasons. The former Notre Dame star has seemingly shed all of the controversy that surrounded him after his college days and can finally focus on doing his job, just like everyone else, in training camp. He’s been a good teammate, and veterans on the team have praised his work ethic and sheer ability. 

Most importantly, however, he’s found comfort in San Diego, and that’s best for both he and the Chargers. He’s close to his home state of Hawaii, and in a comfortable pocket where the media is about as intimidating as a baby giraffe at the world famous San Diego Zoo. In other words, he couldn’t have asked for a better place to begin his NFL career.

“For me to be in San Diego is a perfect situation for me,” Te’o told Sports Out West after practice on Friday. “Being close to home, the Polynesian support that I have here — the Polynesian community is very big here in San Diego.

For me to be here with these coaches and these players. People don’t realize that this organization is filled with a bunch of good people. For me to be a part of that is very, very fortunate.” 

But Te’o understands that he has to come in and prove himself daily in a relenteless league, and he’s focused on that more than anything else these days. So what’s his job specifically as camp gets started?

“Just to compete, learn the playbook, make sure I’m in the right place, he said. “That’s what every rookie has to do, so that’s what I’m doing.” 

Not only is he humble on the field, but gracious and caring off it. As we spoke with him, he corralled a teammate who missed a young fan calling his name with genuine concern. Michael Gehlken of the U-T San Diego reported  on Saturday that he gave fellow rookie D.J. Fluker swimming lessons and helped him overcome his fear of drowning. That’s the player Bolts’ fans will come to appreciate as he continues to prove himself in a dynamic league. In a culture that is so often “me first,” he is humble and likable. 

That humility will pay dividends on the field, where he’s soaking up as much as possible from his new teammates and has leaned on them heavily since coming to Chargers Park. That’s especially true of fellow linebacker Donald Butler.

“The veterans have really helped me,” he said. “Donald helps me a lot. He’s like a big brother out there for me. He tells me where to go, he tells me when I make a mistake and helps me fix those mistakes – guys like him, Eric Weddle, Jarret Johnson, a lot of those guys. The whole team in general just helps me out a lot.” 

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Michael C. Jones is the managing editor and founder of Sports Out West and a Southern California-based sports journalist. His work is also regularly featured on Yahoo! Sports and SB Nation. You can catch up with him on Twitter: @MikeJonesTweets.