Manti Te’o was selected by the San Diego Chargers in the second round of the National Football League (NFL) annual Draft on Friday, ending an anxious wait for one of the game’s most scrutinized and controversial players.
Te’o was a notable absentee when the NFL’s 32 teams made their first-round selections the previous night, but he was the sixth man picked when the second of the seven rounds got underway in New York on Friday.
The Chargers, who have released a slew of veteran players, opening the way for the new crop to make their mark, traded up to get Te’o as the 38th overall pick.
They gave up a fourth-round pick to Arizona just to move up seven spots and ensure they got their man.
“That means a lot to me,” Te’o said in an interview with chargers.com, the team’s official Web site.
“Being a Charger means a lot to me right now. It’s a great organization,” he said. “I want to reward them for picking me. I’m going to do whatever it takes to help us win. “
When former Chargers defensive back Jim Hill announced that San Diego had taken Te’o, there was a loud roar from the crowd inside Radio City Music Hall, where the draft was taking place.
Te’o, a 22-year-old linebacker who played his college football with Notre Dame, was not there, steering clear of the spotlight and opting to watch the national telecast instead from Hawaii, where he was born and raised.
An All-American player who finished runner-up in the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the best player in college football, Te’o’s private life has superseded his sporting career.
He became a source of fascination for the US public when it was discovered earlier this year that he was the victim of an elaborate hoax about a fake girlfriend who supposedly died, but never really existed.
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old man, later said he created the online persona of Lennay Kekua, a nonexistent woman who Te’o said he fell in love with despite never meeting her in person.
“It’s definitely made me stronger,” Te’o told the Chargers’ Web site. “Dealing with adversity, it can hurt you or make you stronger, and it definitely made me stronger. That’s how I feel right now.”
Heavily scrutinized then widely ridiculed, Te’o’s hopes of being selected in the first round draft began to fade as the story gathered momentum.
He did not play at his best in the national championship game against Alabama and questions about his ability to make it in the NFL were raised after he performed poorly at the NFL Combine, where prospective players show off their skills.
The teams considered most likely to select him in the first round went looking for other players, but he seemed a perfect fit for the Chargers, who play a defensive scheme similar to Notre Dame, that suits his skills.
“It’s great motivation for me to go out there and just get better and that’s what I intend to do,” Te’o said.