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Manti Te’o: “One Year Makes a Whole Lot of Difference”
What a difference a year makes.
The week before the 2013 NFL Draft was a nerve-wracking one for Manti Te’o as the lauded linebacker was unsure where or when he’d be drafted.
“One year makes a whole lot of difference,” he said. “I’m not just talking about the game, but physically and emotionally. You know the ropes and what is expected of you. You know how things are done and the protocol. So now I’m really focused on fine-tuning my skills, getting all the little things right and making sure I am getting better. But yeah, one year has made a whole lot of difference. I’m a lot calmer now and a lot more confident. I’m very appreciative of the way this city and the fans embraced me. I’m very grateful for them and now I want to give them something to really cheer about.”
While Te’o admittedly had some growing pains early in the year, he grew more comfortable as the season wore on and was a significant contributor during the Bolts playoff run. In 13 games he finished third on the team with 93 tackles, also chipping in with five tackles for loss and leading all linebackers with four passes defensed. Te’o had a monster effort in the playoff clinching victory in Week 17 over the Kansas City Chiefs as he notched a career-high 11 tackles.
Still, Te’o didn’t mince words when talking about how difficult a rookie season can be, noting there is a steep learning curve and sharp increase in talent. Overall, he’s grateful for his rookie season, saying the taste of success he and his teammates had has only added more fuel to their fire.
“I don’t envy those rookies coming in because the rookie year at parts is rough,” he said. “But it’s an important part of the process and I’m glad I went through it. You learn a lot about yourself, football and your teammates. This team is very close. I know a lot of teams say that but we really are. This team and this city is hungry for success, so we’re working hard to make sure we give them that. I remember Dwight (Freeney) coming up to me before the Bengals playoff game and telling me this is addicting. Once you get that taste of the playoffs it’s like a drug. So for me to be blessed to have my first year here and reach the playoffs, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
One of the key members in the Chargers locker room is Donald Butler. Te’o couldn’t help but smile talking about the teammate he partners with in the middle, explaining why he was so happy to see Butler sign a long term extension to remain in San Diego.
“It doesn’t get any better than that!” he said. “A lot of teams find success when there is consistency. He has an eagerness to get better and is the type of player who takes on all the responsibility that comes with being a leader. He understands there is more responsibility now. We’re going to help him out and we’re all going to be one. It’s going to be fun. We’re all looking forward to it.”
To that end, the young linebacker said the offseason conditioning program is imperative to the team’s success.
“It’s so important just being around the guys,” Te’o said. “We’re working to get back to the playoffs and we want to play in February. We know that it begins now. Right now the days aren’t that long, but we get a lot accomplished. It’s all about getting in here, working out and building that team chemistry already. For the most part we’re lucky because the locker room is pretty much the same. We have a few additions and lost a couple guys, but that’s the nature of the business. So for the most part we have everyone here so we’re just picking up where we left off.”