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December 26, 2009

Teo talks about his decision

Brian Kelly just landed his first five-star recruit.

Answering a question that's lingered since the linebacker signed with Notre Dame a year ago, Manti Te'o has decided to forgo a two-year Mormon mission and return to the Irish program next semester.

Brian Te'o revealed his son's plans on Saturday to multiple media outlets, including Irish Illustrated. Later in the day, Notre Dame's sports information department released quotes from the freshman.

"My decision is to come back to Notre Dame and prepare for the next football season," Te'o said in a statement.

The linebacker didn't close the door on a mission after his sophomore season or at another time during his Notre Dame career.

"I'm not sure just yet," Te'o said. "I'm not sure if I'm going to take it after next year or later on in life."

The former five-star prospect from Hawaii finished fourth on the team in tackles last season with 63 stops, the most by a Notre Dame freshman since 1975 and the third-most all-time.

While it had been suspected that Te'o would return to Notre Dame since he broke into the starting lineup in October, the firing of Charlie Weis and hiring of Kelly appeared to strip a degree of certainty from what seemed to be nearly a sure thing. Yet Te'o said the coaching change didn't play a part in his decision, nor did football at large. He said consultation with parents and his bishop in South Bend guided the process.

"I think it's the connections I have been able to make with people and the ability I have to meet people and influence them for good," Te'o said about his reasons to return. "I think that is a big factor in it. The coaching change didn't have a factor. Football wasn't a factor. It was strictly a spiritual thing for me.

"It's something that has been pulling at me for some time now. Ever since the season started I have been thinking about it and praying about it and really trying to figure out what I would do. It's been a hard decision and we finalized our decision when I got back here (to Hawaii) with my family."

With Te'o back in the fold, Kelly can now begin building his 3-4 defense around Notre Dame's most gifted defender. The new Irish head coach might be busy assembling a coaching staff and closing out his first recruiting class, but there's little doubt Kelly just landed his biggest get since taking the Notre Dame job.

Te'o has already spoken to Kelly but not about the potential mission trip, which is now officially on hold.

"We talked about football and talked about life in general," Te'o said. "I respect him and have trust in him and I think he'll do a great job leading our team."


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