Running through the last few categories, today I have the Linebackers, then Tex and Bayou will round up the Thyself/Thy Enemy battle with QB and Coach, respectively.
Linebacker on the ND side is easy. We have an All-American in the Flyin’ Hawaiian himself, Mr. Manti Teo. We couldn’t ask for a better player to lead the defense this year, nor a better young man. Manti is everything we could have wanted in a leader at Notre Dame. Thoughtful and considerate off the field, putting his family and friends first, and always respectful and on the up and up. A monster on the field, crushing opposing Running Backs and bringing the heat each and every play. Love this guy, and we will miss him a ton.
Position: Running Back Killer aka ILB
Height/Weight: 6’2”/255 lbs
One of six finalists for the Butkus Award for the Best Linebacker in the country last year, Teo is once again on the Watch List for the prestigious award. Te’o logged 120 tackles last season, including a season-high 14 against Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Te’o will be, without a doubt, the leader of the strong ND front 7 this year, and the defense overall. He plays and leads with passion, fitting so well into the way that Bob “the man” Diaco coaches. We all expect big things from Manti this season, and I don’t think he’ll disappoint.
Unlike the Running Back position I wrote about last week, there’s a lot of talent facing ND this Fall at the Linebacker position. A bevy even. On that same Butkus watch list, there are Linebackers from 5 ND opponents, including USC, BYU, Oklahoma, Stanford and Michigan State. What’s more, 2 of those teams, Stanford and Michigan State, have TWO guys each on the Watch List. So that means that ND is facing 7 of the best LBs in the country, assuming these list-making dudes know what they’re talking about. I think they do for the most part, so yeah, a tough call for me.
Being a big fan of experience, I can quickly eliminate SC’s Dion Bailey from this list. Better luck next time kid. But then, where am I? Well, feels like having a buddy that’s close to/as good might help pad your standing a bit, so I’m going to go ahead and bump the Stanford and MSU guys from the list, even though there is some real talent there, especially at MSU. (Plus, I can’t pick 2 Spartans for my only 2 spots in this exercise. Just seems wrong). That leaves Uona Kaveinga from BYU and Tom Wort from Oklahoma. Kaveinga only put up mid 50’s in terms of tackles last year, while Wort wracked up 74 tackles while missing 1 game. Given his pace towards the end of the year, that’s a solid 80 tackles’ worth. So I am going with the two-syllable monster from OK who probably, but really this is a tough position tyo call given ND’s tough slate this season.
Height/Weight: 6’0”/230 lbs
The big ding against Wort as the pick here, pun intended, is that he is coming off knee surgery. The upside is that he was able to play the entire season last year, so we know he’s a tough kid. However, you never know how surgery can affect a player, so this is the biggest warning sign associated with his candidacy as ‘enemy’ on our list. That said, I’m pretty comfortable with the choice. He is on both the Butkus and the Bronco Nagurski lists, was honorable mention All-Big 12 last year, and a second team frosh-all-American the year prior according to several lists. Wort, should he stay healthy, will be a tough guy to get by this Fall.