New Orleans Saints linebacker Manti Te’o knows that has a chance to rebuild an NFL career that has fallen off the tracks a bit last season and is relishing the opportunity to do just that.
Te’o is returning from a torn achilles, an injury Te’o says sent him “down a spiral” emotionally and spiritually, suffered in Week 3 of what Te’o called “a huge season”.
The Saints, who took a chance on Te’o, 26, are getting what the lineback says is “a new me.”
Te’o also admitted that he had finally moved past the fake-girlfriend scandal that surrounded him coming out of the 2013 NFL Draft.
“You know, that was something that I had to get over. And it lingered for years,” said Te’o.
“And that was why Year 4 in the NFL was such a big year, because it was the first year that I felt that I was free,” Te’o said (h/t ESPN).
“And I felt great. And I was just playing the way I wanted to play. And then another adverse situation came along.
“And I think a lot of people look at adversity and they shy away from it or they look at it as a thing that’s too hard. But I’ve learned through all my times of adversity that it makes me and molds me into the man that I need to be. And I’m grateful for it. Because without it, I wouldn’t be as appreciative of the things that I do have now.
“I was appreciative — I thought I was. Everybody thinks they are until it’s gone. Then you really learn to appreciate it.”
Te’o has spent time as the Saints starting middle linebacker who comes off the field during passing situations.
Te’o signed an incentive-laden two-year deal that is worth up to $7 million but only fetched him a $600,000 signing bonus.
Aside from feeling great mentally and spiritually, Te’o is feeling good in his recovery as well.
“I’m really close [to where I was last summer],” said Te’o, who said he doesn’t mind flying under the radar for a change.
“If you ask anybody — I think if you asked that guy to my left, Drew [Brees] — high-profile guys love to fly under the radar,” said Te’o.
“And we like to be just normal guys. We like to go to the grocery store and just walk around. I don’t think Drew can do that. He’s noticed everywhere. But it’s something that, for me, I enjoy.”
“[A high profile] has brought me doing things on and off the field that can create that picture for everybody, that when they see me, they see a good guy that gave his all to the people on the field and off the field,” Te’o said.
“And that’s what I’m striving to do.”
Battling back from the injury was a challenge for Te’o who had his fair shares of highs and lows.
“It was off and on,” Te’o said. “You know, when I first got hurt, it was the first hour I was struggling. And after that, I kind of got everything together. … Then you get it fixed and you’re laying in a hospital bed and you get hit again. You start going like, ‘Man, now I gotta go [through] this and this.’ And then you kind of recover. But you slowly, you’re drifting a little bit. …
“It kind of sends you down a spiral. You’re on this fall, and you’re trying to grab onto anything as you’re descending. But God is that thing that I held on to. And he’s the only one that could’ve saved me from that fall. And I really kind of just leaned on that. I leaned on my faith. And it helped me to rescue myself and to get back on my feet and to make my way.”
Te’o credits his sister who spent 2 months with him and who helped him with everything.
“My sister was that example to me about what love is. Love is the strongest thing in this world, and that’s what the world needs more of is love. And my sister was the epitome of that,” Te’o said. “She was the living example for me of what love means, of who I want to be like — just like her.”
Peace is what Te’o had to find, even when the injury was frustrating him at times.
“You kind of start thinking, ‘What did you do wrong?’ And a lot of times it’s nothing. It’s just the Lord knows exactly who he wants you to be. And it’s all on his timing,” Te’o said.
“If it was my choice, I don’t know where I’d be, but hopefully I’d be paid, I could buy my parents a house and take care of my family. That’s always been my dream, to take care of my family. But that’s just not how it goes.
“Now is that gonna happen next year? Maybe. Is it gonna happen the following year? Maybe. Is it ever gonna happen? I don’t know. But that’s where faith comes in. If you’re living your life right, no matter what you do, you’ll always find peace. And I think that’s something that I have found.”