INTERVIEW: San Diego Chargers LB Manti Te'o and his Season of Knowledge

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For San Diego Chargers LB Manti Te'o, the difference between a rookie year and year two can be be defined by the work and preparation in-between.

There is finally an offseason to the offseason for San Diego Chargers Linebacker Manti Te'o. Sometimes forgotten or overlooked, by the end of a Te'o's rookie year, he'd been on the field non-stop for almost 2 years when you factor in Notre Dame's spring practices and 2-A-Days. Then comes the college football regular season and bowl games. Then after the college season, it only gets more intense.

After the Chargers season ended, you could almost hear Manti Te'o finally take a deep breath.

"This is actually my first offseason, where I have a lot of time off from football," Te'o said as he took a break this weekend from promoting his newest endorsement, Vita Coco. "Rookie year you go straight from the BCS Bowl Game, to straight to training, the Combine, just non-stop so definitely this offseason has been great for me very very relaxing and growing process for me."

The break between Offseason Training Activities and Training Camp has afforded Te'o the opportunity to go back home to Honolulu and not only continue to train on his own, but to give back to his community.

"For me, I always wanted to train at home to be with my family but also because to talk to the kids, the younger generation, about working hard for your dreams," Te'o said.  "One of the big things I always wanted to do was not only tell them, but they could see me work. So for me to be here in Hawaii and work out here, and have all the high school athletes here working out is actually something that I've wanted to do so I'm blessed to do that here."

The work has paid off.

Teammates have raved about how much stronger the 2nd-year linebacker looks, and how he seems to have gotten faster in the process. The chance to refine his physique after realizing what works and doesn't work has left him with one valuable lesson.

"One thing I learned in the NFL is you gotta stay injury free," Te'o said. "The season is a very long season and no matter how good you are, you are no good to your team if you are on the sidelines. I'm now focused on flexibility, making sure that I'm not only physically ready for this season, but mentally ready and spiritually ready and so far its looking good.

Te'o, who suffered a foot sprain in last year's first exhibition game that kept him out until Week 4 of the regular season, knows all about lingering injuries. Te'o would eventually have surgery on the foot early this offseason, only ingraining the importance of limiting the chances for the injury bug to strike. He's hoping the preparation he's doing now will pay off when it counts.

"A lot of injuries you can't avoid," Te'o said.  "But a lot of injuries happen when you're tired or fatigued and you're not really thinking and you're not really focused on what you are doing and you become sloppy. And I knew that if I wasn't in the best shape of my life, physically, that I would be sloppy in some parts of my play, and the chance for me getting injured would increase. So I'm just trying to be in the best shape of my life, so not only so that I can perform, but I can decrease my chances for injury."

Despite the lingering foot issue, Te'o pushed through the 2013 season playing 13 regular season games and two Chargers playoff appearances and finishing with 71 total tackles for the year. And though they may not be eye-poping numbers, even to himself, Te'o believes that having year one under his belt is the most important thing that happened to him.

"Whenever you get reps, good or bad, theres always positives," Te'o said.  "When you make a play its good, when you don't make a play, you learn what not to do the next time. Definitely me getting in the game are the positives I took from last year. That I'm in the NFL, I can compete, and I got a lot to work on and move on from there."

Year two has added another dimension to Te'o's ever growing learning curve. He's no longer the rookie trying to find his place on the team. Now, he's a firm part of a core front-seven that has is constantly pushing eachother to improve.

"Learning from Dwight Freeeny, Jarrett Johnson, to name a few, it makes life easier," Te'o said. "I have Donald (Butler) next to me who constantly helps me with the plays and its great to have those guys there. Now I'm at the point where I know a lot more, so i can kind of help myself and also help Donald with the scheme and all that, so we feed off each other and we understand we can't do it all by ourselves, so we know its a collective effort. Having those guys around has been a great learning experience for me."

As you can see, this offseason hasn't just been about vacations and new endeavors. In fact, its still sort of like last year's non-stop roller coaster as he's found the necessary time to put in work and hone his craft to the best of his abilities.

And for those who think that just won't cut it?

"You just got to go out there and work hard and do well," Te'o said. "Everybody is entitled to their own opinions. For me I'm just going to go out there, work, do my best go out there and try and have some fun and win a lot of football games and that should take care of it."

Heading into year two, it seems Manti Te'o has it all figured out.

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Vita Coco, the country’s most popular coconut water beverage brand announced an impressive roster of professional athletes who will share the role of spokespersons on behalf of the brand. Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Giovani Bernard of the Cincinnati Bengals, Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons, LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers, Manti Te’o of the San Diego Chargers and returning Vita Coco endorser, Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks, will join the brand’s longstanding list of all-star athletes who make the electrolyte-rich coconut water as an integral part of their training.

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