Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Most Influential Mormon Missionary

Many have declared this era the "Mormon Moment", a time when people are starting to understand a little more about who we are, what we believe in, and what we stand for. Most attribute this to the candidacy of Mitt Romney, who's presidential bid ended last month. However, there is one man who's influence upon the "Mormon Moment" might also be characterized as significant, perhaps even incredible. Incredible for a few reasons. One, because of his humble nature, two, because he's spreading his influence at a Catholic school.

As captain of the Notre Dame football team, Hawaii native Manti Te'o has become many things: a leader, a motivator, and an example. Maybe the most important thing he's been on the campus of Notre Dame? He's been an emissary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Te'o was heavily recruited out of Honolulu where he starred as a middle linebacker at Punahoa School. BYU, USC, Notre Dame, and others all vied for his attention, and Te'o eventually decided to attend USC. However, Te'o had a change of heart one night after watching Dead Poet's Society. He decided to pray about his decision and something told him to go to Notre Dame. Tom Coyne, an AP reporter, wrote "He prayed again following his freshman season about whether to return or go on a Mormon mission. He did the same thing again a year ago when he was deciding whether to enter the NFL draft or return for his senior season. He believes what has happened to him this season shows the power or prayer."

For those not as familiar with the emergence of Te'o, he won the Maxwell Award for the nation’s most outstanding player, the Walter Camp national player of the year award, and the Bednarik Award, given to the most outstanding defensive player in college football. He is also one of three finalist for the Heisman Trophy, the most prestigious award given to the most outstanding player in college football. Not only has Te'o proven himself individually, he has led his team to an undefeated 12-0 record and a shot at Notre Dame's first National Championship since 1988.

While the accolades and success of Te'o are catapulting him into stardom, his willingness to share his convictions and testimony is what makes him influence most far-reaching. "I think for anybody who's questioning if God lives, he lives, and I'm an example of that. For those who don't know if he answers your prayers, he does, because he answered mine. If he didn't answer prayers, I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't have come here. I definitely wouldn't have come back for my senior year. And I wouldn't have done a lot of things that I've done."

Even more incredible is his ability to put a loving and humble face to Mormonism, especially in South Bend. The Mormon vs. Catholic rivalry is oft reported, especially when the two schools, Brigham Young University and Notre Dame, face off - as they did in September. However, Te'o influence has broken down many walls of contempt and animosity between the alumni of the two schools.

In a recent interview for, Teo said "I don't know to what extreme I've had an impact on people, but I just try to have as positive an impact on as many people as I can. That's what I try to do. What I've learned is that people may not necessarily know your name or remember where you're from, but they'll definitely know how you made them feel. If I can make somebody feel important, make somebody feel included, I've always been like that since I was young. Make people feel that they're a part of something instead of excluded."

Don't think for a moment that Te'o is all about football, because from his words we've just read, it's clear to see he has a bigger mission."Once I leave here, I hope that the impact I've made not only on the football field but in people's lives will forever be remembered."

Manti, I think it's safe to say, "mission accomplished."

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