Manti Te'o wasn't a first-round pick, but that doesn't mean the football gods weren't looking out for him. That's the thinking, anyway; the Chargers took Te'o 38th overall, which means the former Notre Dame standout will begin his NFL career in Southern California, close to his Hawaii home, in one of the league's most laid-back markets.
Still, the fine citizens of San Diego haven't magically forgotten the fake, dead Internet girlfriend that landed Te'o in the media crosshairs (see the local paper for proof). Of course, Te'o can change all that with his performance on the field. And realistically, San Diego is as low-pressure an environment as any to make that happen.
But talk, as they say, is cheap. And while fans can be demanding, Te'o will need to first impress his teammates. Linebacker Donald Butler, for example, says Te'o has a lot to prove.
"I think a lot of people are jumping to conclusions," Butler told U-T San Diego this week. "He has to come in and prove himself as a starter. Obviously, it would be nice -- that's why you draft someone in the second round. We don't know how he's going to be in the NFL. I hope he comes in and he's a superstar. Hopefully we can create something that will carry us for the next four, five, six years.
"I'm looking forward to him coming in and being excited to work. From what I've heard, that is what he likes to do: humble guy who wants to come in and just work and really hone his craft."
In the weeks leading up to the draft, one of the recurring concerns was that Te'o would be the never-ending butt of locker room jokes, perhaps to the point that it would affect his play on the field. In March, Texans defensive lineman Antonio Smith said, “Our locker room is full of clowns and, oh, man, people would kill him. I mean he would be the butt of every joke for at least two, three years."
So is that a possibility in San Diego?
"I'm sure he'll get some jabs," Butler said. "But that comes with being a rookie. He might get a little more because of his situation, but I'm sure he's man enough to handle it and really grow from it. I don't think it's going to be anything over-the-top. It'll be your normal rookie jokes."
Much like Geno Smith, the new Jets quarterback, Te'o can quiet his critics by playing well. And Butler gets the sense his new teammate is willing to put in the effort.
"My thing is I just want to see him come here and work," Butler said. "A lot of people are talking about the future, and as bright as the future may seem or sound, he has to come in and prove himself before anything. That's what I'm looking forward to. I want someone coming in ready and willing to work and learn and be a part of this defense."