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Football Recruiting: The full Manti

BIll Brink | Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cold weather be damned – Charlie Weis managed to lure the biggest fish in the pond away from the temperate waters of southern California to the North Atlantic-esque conditions of South Bend.

Linebacker Manti Te’o, from Punahou High School in Laie, Hawaii, signed a letter of intent to play for Notre Dame next fall, the athletic department announced Wednesday. Te’o chose the Irish over Southern California, UCLA, BYU and Stanford.

“You think about it, a kid from Hawaii, he comes to the Syracuse game in the snow, and ends up committing; it’s truly remarkable,” Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said in a press conference Wednesday.

Sixteen other recruits also announced their intentions to play for the Irish Wednesday, which was national signing day for high school seniors. Wide receiver Shaquelle Evans, running back Cierre Wood and offensive tackle Chris Watt all announced their intention to play for Notre Dame.

Te’o announced his decision on ESPNU around 12:15 p.m. Wednesday. ESPN ranked him as the No. 1 defensive player and the No. 2 player overall in this year’s signing class.

The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Te’o became the inaugural high school recipient of the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker, and The Sporting News named him 2008 High School Athlete of the Year.

“He’s every bit of that 6-2, 225; that might not be doing him justice,” Weis said. “He might be bigger than that.”

Weis said Te’o asked one question during a phone call Tuesday night: Did he have a chance to come in here and compete? Weis said he received other indications that Te’o might choose the Irish but didn’t know for sure until Te’o announced it himself.

“Not until he actually does it do you feel good about it,” Weis said.

Te’o is a Mormon and may take a mission trip after his freshman year. Weis said one of the things that alerted him to the fact that Te’o may have been moving towards Notre Dame was that Te’o’s father, Brian, called Weis last night to inquire about what happens to scholarships if a player leaves school. Weis also said the program would allow Te’o to take a mission trip and return as a fourth-year sophomore.

“We would respect his wishes, if that’s what he decided to do,” he said.

Rivals.com ranked Te’o as the No. 12 player in the nation and the No. 2 outside linebacker. He had 129 tackles, 11 sacks, three forced fumbles and three interceptions in his senior season, when Punahou won its first-ever state championship.

While Te’o was the most high-profile recruit Notre Dame signed, the team still brought in other good talent. Evans, a 6-foot-1, 203-pound receiver from Inglewood, Calif., caught 51 passes for 810 yards and 11 touchdowns in his senior season. ESPN ranked him as the No. 4 wide receiver in the country.

“He’s a complete receiver with a combination of size and speed,” Weis said. “He’s just a playmaker.”

Wood, a 6-foot, 192-pound running back from Oxnard, Calif., verbally committed early to Notre Dame. USA Today named him an All-America player, and The Sporting News ranked him the No. 2 running back in the nation. He ran for 1,632 yards and 20 touchdowns in his senior season at Santa Clara High School. His junior year, he rushed for 2,612 yards and 34 touchdowns.

“He jumped on board early, and he really helped us and was one of the integral parts of the recruiting process as we went through with this class,” Weis said. “We like this kid.”

Watt was the only other recruit Notre Dame signed besides Te’o that Rivals.com gave five stars. A 6-foot-3, 280-pound lineman from Glen Ellyn, Ill., Watt was also named an All-American by USA Today.

“Here is another guy that we have had a good relationship for quite some time and we are really happy to have him on board,” Weis said.

Watt had 107 pancake blocks as a senior at Glenbard West High School even though he missed two games. He played three different positions on the line and never surrendered a sack.

Weis said playing in the Hawaii Bowl this season “certainly didn’t hurt” the chase for Te’o, but he said he didn’t think the players, who had a role in the decision of which bowl game to play in, were thinking about getting Te’o to commit.

Weis said he understood the importance of getting recruits nationwide and that signing the top recruits will keep Notre Dame competitive.

“Whether it’s California or Florida or Jersey, Indiana, Illinois, no matter where you’re going, if you want to beat the best, you’d better get the best players,” Weis said. “I have no illusions of grandeur [and know] that getting top players is the best way to beat them.”


uIrishIllustrated reported that Roby Coma, a senior wide receiver who went to Punahou High School with Te’o, may be considering joining Te’o at Notre Dame. He was originally going to commit to UCLA, IrishIllustrated said, but has not turned in his letter of intent.

uJunior Chris Martin, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound linebacker from Oakland, Calif., committed to Notre Dame Wednesday, IrishIllustrated.com reported. He will be the third verbal commitment of the 2010 recruiting class.

When asked what he would tell other coaches who may try to recruit him, Martin told IrishIllustrated: “I’m 100-percent Irish, that’s what I’ll tell them,” he said. “I appreciate the attention you are showing me, but I’m 100-percent Irish and that’s what they’ll know.”