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First round ends with Te'o still waiting by phone

By By The Sports Xchange
Published On: Apr 26 2013 09:40:25 AM CDT
Updated On: Apr 26 2013 04:04:23 PM CDT
Manti Te'o

Jeff Haynes / Reuters

His past footprints have been traced for months, but Manti Te'o must anguish one more day before learning what his next step will be after the Notre Dame linebacker wasn't drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday.

His best chances to go in the first round figured to be at No. 19 to the New York Giants, No. 20 to the Chicago Bears or to the Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota had the 23rd and 25th picks and then traded back into the first round (No. 29), but opted not to invest in Te'o.

The St. Louis Rams drafted Georgia's Alec Ogletree as an outside linebacker, meaning the first round expired without a middle linebacker being drafted.

Te'o has taken an incomparable path to the NFL, one lined with constant ridicule and non-stop scrutiny, most of which dealt with everything but football.

His "fake" girlfriend.

His decision to delay reporting facts of the hoax to Notre Dame and media.

His (4.8-second) timed speed in shorts and a tank top.

In a matter of days, Te'o will finally be free to return to football in his first on-field appointment as a professional at rookie minicamp. He'll have to wait until Friday to buy that plane ticket to his future home.

Te'o spent the first day of the NFL Draft in Laie, Hawaii -- with a gaggle of family and close friends and NFL Network cameras -- a single-stoplight coastal hamlet some distance from the scrutiny that has followed him since the national championship game in January.

Te'o was a first-team All-American and a captain for Notre Dame, which was undefeated in the regular season. Te'o had 113 tackles, seven interceptions and 5.5 total tackles for loss, and won the Nagurski Award, Maxwell Trophy and Walter Camp National Player of the Year honors in addition to being the runner-up to Johnny Manziel in Heisman Trophy balloting.

But his numbers were secondary to the off-field endurance test Te'o experienced when news broke a week after the title game loss to Alabama of a hoax involving Te'o and a girlfriend he would later learn didn't exist.

"Honestly, I'd say I'm never going to be normal," Te'o told Vanity Fair magazine this month. "It's still with me now. It's always going to be something that's just there all the time, in the back of my head. Every day, in every situation with people -- conversations, getting Facebook messages -- I'm thinking about all the angles. What does that mean? Wait, stop, who really is this person? What should I be thinking? What should I be doing now?"

A Samoan of Mormon faith, Te'o's unlikely journey to Notre Dame could've ended after the 2011 season. He was considered a top-20 draft pick at the end of his junior season, but opted to return for his senior season to keep a promise to his family. Four years ago, Te'o nearly signed with Southern Cal, only to change his mind after following his faith to South Bend.

Instead of entering the NFL last April, he committed to making over his body to improve in coverage -- still considered a liability at the NFL level -- and had seven interceptions.

Te'o dropped 16 pounds but pedestrian speed, shorter-than-ideal arms and his performance against Alabama's NFL-like offensive line in January contributed to slowly erasing his stellar career with scouts, who magnified those issues. Especially in the media, Te'o's decorated college resume was crumpled in the fast-forward projections to the NFL and judgment of his role and emotional and moral responsibility in the aftermath of the girlfriend hoax.

As opportunities ticked by ... New York, Chicago, Minnesota thrice and Baltimore, it became clear Te'o's demise wasn't a creation of the media, or a mirage. When the draft begins Friday, he'll still be waiting for the right match.

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