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January 2, 2009

Te'o weighing his finalists

Honolulu Punahou inside linebacker Manti Te'o was somewhat of an unknown commodity heading into this week's Under Armour All-American Bowl practices. Not many people have been to Hawaii to see the 6-foot-2, 225-pound five-star prospect in person. However, through three practices with some of the other top linebackers in the country, he has not disappointed.

After Te'o finishes participating in the game, he is ready to get back to recruiting. With trips to the mainland being quite an affair, he has only had a chance to take two official visits so far. However, he has two others planned.

"I've taken official visits to Notre Dame and UCLA," Te'o said. "I liked the tradition at Notre Dame. It is huge there. The facilities are very nice at UCLA and the student body is very welcoming. I really enjoyed my time there.

"I'm visiting Stanford in the middle of this month and USC at the end of the month. Those are the two that are finalized. I'm not sure if I'll visit my fifth finalist, BYU, since I've been there a bunch."

Prior to his visit to South Bend, Te'o's travels had been limited to California and Utah. He says distance should not play a factor in his final decision.

"As long as I feel at home, I'm good. Nothing is going to be the same as my home but if I could find myself happy at that university if I wasn't playing football, that's what I'm looking for. You never know if you could get hurt or something and no longer have football, so you've got to be comfortable and happy there."

Another thing that jumps out about Notre Dame is that it is a Catholic school. Te'o is of the Mormon faith, but he says it would not bother him to attend a school with a different affiliation. In fact, he already has some experience with other denominations at his high school.

"It doesn't really matter to me if it's a Catholic school, Jewish, Buddhist or whatever," he said. "As long as they let me be who I am, I'll be happy. I know at Notre Dame, I'd have to go to Catholic Mass. It wouldn't really be a shock to me, though, because at Punahou we have Chapel which isn't an LDS thing. It's just a Christian chapel that we attend so I wouldn't really be shell-shocked to go to Mass. I would actually go there and participate. I know who I am and I know what I believe, so it wouldn't make that big a difference."

Te'o says that he might take a two-year mission after he turns 19, as is customary in the Mormon religion. He says that all the schools have been receptive to that possibility.

"That's the plan right now," he said. "I'll go to college and play for a year and, if I decide to go after that year, then I'll go. All five schools have actually been really supportive of me in that regard."

The talented defender says that he truly does not know where he will end up but he hopes that things will begin to become more clear after he takes all of his visits.

"In my mind, I'm slowly whittling things down. I've got to wait until I take my other two visits until I can really focus and concentrate on my decision. I'm not really focusing on any one or two schools right now since I've only been to two places. I've seen all they have to offer, so naturally they would be the leaders in my head right now, but I have to give everybody a chance."

When he does finally make his decision, don't expect Te'o to let the cat out of the bag, though.

"I'm going to make my decision known on Signing Day, but I should have my mind made up as far as where I want to go before that. I'm going to call the coaches at the four schools I don't choose just out of courtesy and respect but I think I'm going to surprise the other one. I'm not going to tell the school that I choose beforehand."

Te'o is ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 8 overall prospect in the country and the No. 1 middle linebacker.


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