SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Manti Te'o's parents landed here roughly a half-hour before he the took the podium to address the media Wednesday. The senior linebacker has played in front of his parents only about eight times, he said, and the experience never gets old.
"It's special. I've been playing in front of them ever since I was eight years old," Te'o said. "That feeling never leaves. It never gets old. It's always a special feeling when you know that the two people that sacrificed the most for you to be here are in the stands. They're watching you and they're watching someone who they've given everything they have to live his dream.
"My dream is to help them in their dream, too. So, no, it's always exciting. It's going to be a special occasion to see them in the stands."
Te'o saw them two weeks ago when he returned home to Hawaii with teammate and fellow Laie native Robby Toma to attend his grandmother's funeral. Coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday that if he had any concern about the attention surrounding Te'o -- be it from all of the Heisman talk or national features about the captain just weeks after his grandmother and his girlfriend passed away -- it would have been last week.
Instead, Kelly said, Te'o played his best game of the season, recording 10 tackles.
"It's hard for a guy like Manti Te'o to keep pushing that bar, and he does," Kelly said.
Te'o shook his head, unable to say whether that was the case, noting that he focuses on the plays he failed to make rather than the ones he did.
"For me personally, I think I did OK," Te'o said. "I could have done more. I wish I could have had a pick or something to really change the momentum of the game. But I have a lot work to do. To know that my head coach thinks that brings me a lot confidence."
Te'o said the feeling of knowing his family will be in the stands watching him this weekend is more incentive to improve, crediting his strong play the past three games -- 30 tackles, two interceptions, one fumble recovery -- to the knowledge that his grandmother and his girlfriend were watching him from up above.
His parents will be on the field for Senior Day next month. Still, Te'o said, it will be hard to beat the first time his parents saw him enter Notre Dame Stadium as a freshman, which he recalled Wednesday.
"That was when I knew all this hard work and all the sacrifice, the distance, the travel and all that, was worth it," Te'o said. "That all started on that walk. My mom was crying, my dad was crying. My mom was actually in the back of a crowd. I know all of you, everybody has mothers, but when you hear your mom's voice it stands out.
"So amidst all the people out there I heard my mom's voice all the way in the back. The Notre Dame community brought her up. They made way so I could give her a hug, and it was a very special moment for me."