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Eifert, Te’o among four captains selected

Andrew Gastelum | Thursday, August 30, 2012

Traditionally, team captains are the vocal engines of a well-oiled machine. As the focal points of a huddle, they holler at their teammates in practice and roar across the white lines before and after the whistle.

But Notre Dame’s four captains – linebacker Manti Te’o, tight end Tyler Eifert, offensive tackle Zack Martin and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore – were at a loss for words, simply humbled as the next to be added to the exclusive index of Irish captaincy.

“I wasn’t expecting it to be honest with you,” Te’o said. “I wasn’t really thinking about it … I was really humbled. I never thought it would happen. [I was] just [a kid] coming from Hawaii, trying to make his name, do well in football and help his team win.”

Irish coach Brian Kelly and the rest of the coaching staff delivered the unexpected announcement Monday after practice.

“I think what struck me more than anything else is when they got up before their teammates and the things they said about being a captain at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “In one particular instance, [Lewis-Moore] was brought to tears. You love to see the passion and love for Notre Dame and their teammates.”

Even the usually vociferous Lewis-Moore was stunned. The same lineman who quickly became known as the unofficial voice of the Leprechaun Legion for his intimidating antics in the front row of basketball games this past year struggled to find the words to describe his emotions.

“I was just thinking about five years ago coming here as a 225-pound supposedly outside linebacker and now it is just an unbelievable journey … The whole day was just a big emotion for me. Thinking how far I’ve come and what I’ve been through.”

After recording a career-high 62 tackles in 2010, the graduate student senior suffered a season-ending knee injury Oct. 22 during the 31-17 loss to USC. But Lewis-Moore said neither the injury nor his newfound captaincy will change his mentality heading into his final season with the Irish.

“I really can’t explain it. It’s something I’m so humbled about. Being here for five years, it’s like a dream come true. It’s a big responsibility but I am going to keep being me … I’m just going to keep being Kapron-Lewis Moore. I’m going to keep being loud, keep bringing the energy. I might do a couple dance moves.”

Te’o, a consensus preseason All-American after consecutive 125-plus tackle seasons, issued a similar vow in hopes of inspiring his teammates after turning down a projected first-round selection in April’s NFL Draft.

“I think a captain is just a title. That’s just a title you’re given. For me, I’ve always tried to be a great leader,” he said. “The title of being captain doesn’t change the way I do things. I’m still going to try to [help] my teammates the best way I know how, both on and off the field and be an example to them and just do what I can to help us win.”

Like Te’o, Martin has started every game the past two seasons. A model of consistency at left tackle, Martin flatly denied being the rah-rah member of an offensive line that cleared the way for a rushing attack averaging 4.8 yards per carry in 2011.

“I would say I am more of an example guy,” Martin said. “Maybe more vocal to the O-line … When I see an opportunity where I need to be vocal, I will be. But besides that I will be an example guy.”

Eifert said he walks a similar route as the left tackle he often lines up next to. The 6-foot-6 tight end had a breakout 2011 with 803 receiving yards and five touchdowns and 90 receptions, earning him a finalist nomination for the John Mackey Award given to the nation’s top tight end.

“It’s pretty cool [to be a captain]. I’ve never really even dreamed of being in this position, but it’s great to actually be [a captain]. It’s really quite an honor,” Eifert said. “I told [the team] that they can expect the same thing that I’ve done my whole time here and that I’m going to come to work every day with a positive attitude and a good work ethic. I just want to be someone who can be reliable and accountable.”

Te’o, meanwhile, said the biggest honor wasn’t the proverbial “C” he received from his coaches, but the encouragement and support he received from his teammates just before his last season opener in an Irish uniform.

“It’s one thing to be named captain, but it’s another things for your teammates to come up to you and tell you that you deserve it,” Te’o said.

“Them coming up to me and telling me I deserve it meant more to me than the title because it goes to show that I earned their respect and I earned their trust and now I just have got to keep doing what I am doing.”

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel1@nd.edu