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Seniors reflect on final game, collegiate careers

Chris Allen | Tuesday, January 15, 2013

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – For four months, Manti Te’o’s senior season at Notre Dame unfolded in storybook fashion. Twelve times he walked off the field a victor as the Irish marched to the BCS National Championship Game.

Yet the linebacker made his final walk solemnly as crimson confetti rained down following Notre Dame’s season-ending 42-14 loss to Alabama. Following his final game in an Irish uniform, Notre Dame’s unquestioned leader said he was disappointed in the loss.

“I’m obviously disappointed. Not necessarily that we lost, but just we didn’t represent our school, our team, our families the way that we could have,” Te’o said. “But at the same time I’m proud to be a part of this team. What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger. The best thing about this experience is it creates fire. It creates fuel for both the guys staying here and the guys leaving. And everybody here … will be better for it.”

Playing for a championship to cap off a season in which he energized the Notre Dame fan base with a runner-up Heisman Trophy campaign, Te’o recorded 10 tackles against Alabama as his defensive unit was gashed for 42 points by a powerful and precise Crimson Tide attack.

“It definitely sucks, to be quite honest,” Te’o said. “But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I wouldn’t trade this team for anything. I wouldn’t do anything differently. Obviously we wish the night could have ended in a different way.”

Te’o’s fellow seniors all dealt with an unceremonious end to a senior year that few saw coming at the outset of fall training camp. Graduate student defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore went down early in Notre Dame’s defeat with a knee injury that was later diagnosed as a torn ACL. Senior tight end and Mackey Award winner Tyler Eifert caught six passes for 61 yards and had a crucial catch on Notre Dame’s first offensive drive ruled incomplete on replay. Senior safety Zeke Motta recorded a career-high 16 tackles in the loss. Motta said the seniors and the team played together despite the poor performance.

“I mean, our whole team is a brotherhood, and I’m proud to say that we came out and kept fighting no matter what the situation was,” Motta said. “Like I said earlier, like everybody has been saying, Alabama came out and executed. You can’t put it on one person or the other, it’s just a team thing. And we just need to fight and learn from it.

“I love all these brothers, and I’m fortunate to say that I’ve been here for four years and grown from that.”

Though the senior class departed with a loss in its final game, it leaves having brought Notre Dame from a 6-6 season in 2009 to the brink of a national championship. After the game, Irish junior nose guard Louis Nix said it is up to the returning players to build on the progress made by Te’o, Eifert and the other seniors.

“[The seniors] set the tone for us. They didn’t get the results we wanted, but they made history,” Nix said. “We came back to the national stage, going 12-0. We got here against one of the best teams in the country. The seniors left their mark and we have to continue to build.”

With the 2012 season in the books, several Irish seniors will turn to the NFL Draft in April in hopes of playing football professionally. Te’o and Eifert are expected to be selected early, but Te’o said he would forever identify himself with Notre Dame.

“The season, the year, my career here, I’ve been truly blessed to be at Notre Dame,” he said. “I’ll forever be proud to say I’m a Notre Dame Fighting Irish.”