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Sports

November 13, 2012

The other side of Coach Kelly

Notre Dame coach, with local ties, has compassion to go with his fight

CHESTNUT HILL — On TV, America sees a coach who constantly gets in his players faces after a play that didn’t go Notre Dame’s way.

They also see a coach whose Notre Dame team is undefeated (10-0) and ranked third overall after beating Boston College, 21-6, last week.

What people probably don’t know about Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly, a native of Chelsea, Mass. and St. John’s Prep graduate (1979), is his compassion.

Nobody knows that better than Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman Trophy candidate Manti Te’o.

The football aspect of Te’o’s life couldn’t be any better, as the accolades will attest. It’s the other 20 hours a day that Te’o often struggles with.

It’s been that way since the early September day when his grandmother and his girlfriend died of leukemia within six hours of each other.

There is no statute of limitations on grief. Te’o continues to lean on family and teammates for support. And Te’o revealed after the BC game that when he really hit rock bottom in the hours after the death of two loved ones, he received extraordinary compassion from coach Kelly.

“When I had my personal tragedy, he was the first one there for me,” Te’o said of Kelly. “He was there by my side, making sure I had all the help that I needed.

“To me, that’s the measure of the character of a man,” Te’o added. “He was a family member to me when it all happened. Coach Kelly was there for me in every way. He’s an incredible coach and an incredible man to me.”

A 21-year-old senior, Te’o wasn’t one of Kelly’s recruits coming out of Punahou High School in Hawaii; former Patriots assistant Charlie Weis was the Notre Dame head coach at the time, and he was battling 28 other schools to sign Te’o, who appeared to be ticketed for Southern Cal. Te’o changed his mind when he was in South Bend, Ind., on a day when the Irish were upset by Syracuse and Weis and the players were pelted with snowballs.

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