SOUTH BEND – Manti Te'o was thrilled to have been able to put all of the drama behind him.
No, not the whole online girlfriend fiasco, though that too, is in his past according to the former Fighting Irish linebacker. But what Te'o was happy about was the fact that he ran well during the Notre Dame Pro Day and helped alleviate some concerns that NFL teams may have had about his speed.
“I just expected to run fast,” Te'o said. “I ran faster than I ran at the NFL Combine.”
At last month's Combine, Te'o ran a 4.82 in the 40-yard dash, which coupled with his performance in the 2013 BCS National Championship game against the speedier Alabama squad, sent Te'o's draft stock sliding downward at about a 4.2 pace.
However, on Tuesday, Te'o got back into a comfortable environment and his month of speed work paid dividends, as he ran a 4.69.
“I felt good,” Te'o said. “I'm at home now. I'm in a place where I'm comfortable. I'm surrounded by people I know. I was pretty pleased with how I performed.”
Te'o's draft position according to the experts rates anywhere from second half of the first round to second round. But this off-season has been mentally, emotionally and physically draining in many ways for Te'o. In the wake of his girlfriend scandal, he performed poorly in drills at the Combine and it seemed as if four years of incredible playmaking on the football field had been washed away in the eyes of many.
But not for Te'o.
“It's what you do on tape,” Te'o said. “We play football with a helmet on and shoulder pads. All of these tests? It's something that you want to do well at. Whenever you are competing, you want to do well. These tests that we do, it can be frustrating. But it's a great learning opportunity and a great way to go out there and compete.”
The critics that question Te'o's ability have said that his speed will factor in his not being able to play much against the pass in the NFL, which is a problem, seeing how the league is a pass-happy group. But Te'o doesn't see his evaluation in that regard.
“The question (NFL teams) have asked is how did I go from no interceptions (as a junior) to seven (as a senior),” Te'o said. “I've been a three-down linebacker my whole life. That is something that I'll work and continue to do.”
Te'o has spent the past two-plus months training in Florida and while there, he spent time getting mentored by former Tampa Bay Buccaneer great Derrick Brooks and coach Jon Gruden.
“Whenever you can talk with somebody that has done what you are trying to do,” Te'o explained, “it's a great blessing. The most important thing that he told me was that 'At the end of the day, it's football. You go out there and work your butt off and you make sure that you leave no doubt as far as your work ethic.'”
Te'o is returning to South Bend to spend the final weeks of preparation leading up to the draft in a place where he feels supported. He has several visits scheduled with various teams, but really has no clue where he'll end up being selected.
“It's definitely a dream come true,” Te'o said of making the NFL. “At the age where you decide 'I want to do this for a living,' draft day is the day that you dream of. When that happens, I'm going to be very happy to spend it with my family that we finally made it.”