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Manti Te'o: Sacrifice, Setbacks & the NFL

“The way that you overcome adversity is by making it your friend.” – Manti Te‘o

They say that every setback is a setup for a great comeback and that every sacrifice flourishes into an opportunity. With God’s grace, all challenges can be won over. American football linebacker and an all-around great guy, Manti Te‘o hits leadership in different levels as he recounts his parents’ sacrifices for him and reveals how he overcome adversities and kept the faith no matter what challenges he faced. An investor and a spiritual devotee, Manti drops value bombs from how he leads his team as a leader of a pack and the most significant takeaways he got from his fellow teammates.

Dustin
We are here with a football player, a baller. We're here with an investor and an all-around great guy, Manti Te'o. Manti, welcome to the show.
Manti
Thanks, I appreciate it.
Dustin
I want to go back on December 8th, New York City, the capital of the world. You’ve got the eyes of the sports world on you. It's the Heisman ceremony. You're sitting there about to hear the news of who would be selected. What's going through your head on that night? Take us back to that night.
Manti
First, I hope I win. That's the first thing that’s going through my mind. I have my parents with me. It was the tail-end of that award ceremony circuit for me. I first started off in Carolina where I won the Nagurski Award. I went to Texas where I won the Lombardi Award. Florida, where I won the Lott, Maxwell, Walter Camp and Bednarik Award then I went to New York. It was a blessing. I'm blessed to be there. As a kid growing up in Hawaii, you thought of it, but you never thought you could make it that far. The goal was always to make it to college. Get to college, play good football so that college can be paid for. You can get a scholarship. I'm sitting in New York. It's a different city. I'm an island boy and I'm in the big apple. There's a lot coming. I'm definitely feeling blessed for sure.
Dustin
Who were your role models growing up? When you were thinking, "I want to go to college," or maybe go to that NFL, did you have any role models or guys that you look to that left the island or maybe were mainland boys?
Manti
My role models are my parents, my mom and my dad. I was one of the fortunate ones. The older I get, I understand how fortunate I was to have the parents that I had. That showed me not only through their words but their action of the importance of hard work, sacrifice, family and love. Every boy's first superhero is their dad. For me that was it. My dad was that guy that I watched, how he moved and how he put our family first in everything. He worked his tail off. Seeing that as a little boy, it made me want to be like him and to not only be like him but hopefully give back to him. I have my loving mother. I always ran to my mom and cried. With my dad, I tried to be that tough guy. I always wanted to make him proud. My mom was always that shoulder to cry on. My two role models are definitely them too.
Dustin
What were the sacrifices that they made so that you could get to where you are?
Manti
Growing up as a kid, you never realize what you don't have. You're always grateful for what you do have. As I got older, I understood the sacrifices they made on my behalf and of my sisters. I'm the oldest of seven kids. My parents had the foresight to send me and my sisters to a private school. We live in Laie, which is a town on the North side of the island of Oahu in Hawaii. We went to the local elementary school, Laie Elementary School. My parents always had the vision to send us to a private school. The reason for that was for academic reasons because they wanted to put us in the best position to receive an education so that we could be successful in our future.
That private school happens to be an hour and a half from where we lived. I took the test in sixth grade. I got accepted in seventh grade. For those years in intermediate, middle school and high school, my dad would drive. There's no school bus. My dad would drive us all the way to school. We'd go to school and that school wasn't cheap. He picks us up. When it was football season, it was even worse because we were not done until 7:00 PM. We had to drive all the way back. Some of the sacrifices that they made as far as academics and as far as athletics.
Hawaii at that time had some attention for football. We produced Jesse Sapolu. We produced Aaron Francisco. We produced a bunch of guys that came up that had a lot of success, but there was no pipeline that was established yet. In order for us to get some exposure and as football players, as kids, we had to come to the mainland. I was talking to my sister about how I always feel I'm in debt to my sisters, my siblings. They're the ones who sold the Lau Lau. It's a Hawaiian delicacy. It's some pork wrapped in taro leaves and they steam it. It's something that everybody in Hawaii loves. It's one of the main things that people sell for fundraisers. In order to make money to send me to the mainland, to go to these football camps, we would sell these Lau Laus. I didn't sell but my siblings did. They did all the work to send their older brother to these camps so that he could fulfill his dream. There are so many sacrifices that have been made on my behalf from my family. That's why I'm so indebted to them.
Dustin
That's Hawaiian culture though too because you're on an island. You're not going anywhere. You could go to the beach, but you all go as a family. The family unit is very strong in Hawaii. Is that right?
Manti
That's exactly what it is. It should be like that everywhere. That's what makes Hawaii special. As we all grow older and whatever, we start to understand that family dynamic. Majority of the time as we grow up, we're like, "I wish I would've spent more time here. I wish I didn't go to the movies or go sleep over at my friend's house." At least for me, I always wanted to spend more time with my siblings. Two of my sisters are getting married and so even more so I'm like, "Where's all the time gone?" There are no sleepovers. There's none of that. I'm 28. I'm like, "You want to come to visit me in San Diego." The family dynamic definitely in Hawaii is something that's special. I will continue that with my own.
Dustin
I want to go back to adversity or at least things not going your way. It didn't go that way in New York that night. It didn't go that way in the National Championship. How do you overcome adversity where things are not going where you want them to go? How do you do that?
Manti
The way you do it is you make it your friend.
Dustin
What do you mean?
Manti
Whenever adversity comes and whenever adversity strikes, fear, anxiety, doubt, helplessness and anything like that, I'm a faith-based guy. I grew up Christian. I grew up a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Everything about our family is always centered around God. As I grew up and learned that sometimes adversity is the thing that we need to mold us into the guy, girl that God wants us to be. That's the only way, It's the refiner's fire. You need to go through something to refine yourself to come out on the backend as that person God may need you, to inspire somebody or to reach out and lend a helping hand to somebody else. It's not necessarily because of your talents, but it's because of the things that you overcame that put you in that position to be like, "Now, I can bend down. I can help you."
When I think about losing the Heisman, that's no adversity. That was more of a shot to my ego. I was like, "I was so close." I won it on the video game. I was so close to winning it. Things that have come up in anybody's life look at it, address it for what it is, turn it on its head and use it for your benefit. The only way that you can get stronger is that you get tested. The only way I get stronger in the weight room is that I lift weights that I can't lift. If I keep lifting the weights that I know I can get, I'm never going to get stronger. The only way I can get stronger is to break down and then I can build back. I tried to make him my friend. It usually is my friend because of my best friend.
Dustin
I'm always curious how sports stars pick a school especially you sharing that you grew up Latter Day Saints. You go to Notre Dame. What's the story behind Notre Dame? I’ve got to imagine California was closer for your family. You could have gone anywhere. You were coming out of Hawaii as one of the top-rated recruits out of Hawaii. How do you pick Notre Dame?
Manti
For that story, I'm going to backtrack to sixth grade. It's important that I start with this story because it would give some backstory to how I came about and why I was so strong on my decision on Notre Dame. We were coming to the tail end of my sixth-grade year. At my elementary school, they always had a little field trip that they took out the sixth graders graduating from elementary school. That year they took us to the Waterpark. For us, the Waterpark was like Disneyland. There are slides and all of that stuff. That was the field trip at the end of the year.
One day I came into my dad's room and I asked my dad, "Dad, can you sign this permission so I can go to the Waterpark with my class?" I got to talk to him about it because I don't know if he knew the impact of this little experience that we're about to have. It paid dividends when I chose my college. Before he signed it, he was like, "Why don't you go and pray about it?" I was like, "Okay." I was twelve, thirteen years old. I went to my room. I got on my knees. I said a quick prayer. I felt like the answer was no, that I shouldn't go.
I was bawling. I was crying. I have the same reaction that you'd have. I said, "It's a field trip. Everybody is going. I'm twelve, thirteen years old, what's the big deal? Why can't I go?" I knew in my heart that I felt like the answer was no. I went into the room and I was bawling. My dad said, "What was your answer?" I told him, "I think it was no." He said, "What do you think?" I begged my dad, "Please let me go." He was like, "Your answer was no though." I said, "Okay." He was like, "Go to sleep. We'll talk about it later."
I went to sleep. I woke up and went to school. At recess, I remember, I saw my dad walking on campus. My mom was a counselor at my elementary school. I thought that he was visiting my mom. He came up on the recess field. He motioned me to come to see him and I ran to him. He handed me the permission slip and it was signed. He said, "Sometimes the easiest thing to do is to get on your knees and pray. The hardest thing to do is to go through with the answer that you get." I was like, "Thanks, Dad." I was not listening to him. I got the yes to go on this field trip. I was like, "Thank you."
I ran on my friends like, "Look, I'm going," because I cried to them that morning like, "I'm not going." I was crying. I was like, "I'm going to this thing." My dad smiled at me and walked off. I went to the field trip, live life and whatever. Let's go to the college decision. I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It's the most prestigious Catholic school in the world. I'm a huge USC fan and they don't like Notre Dame. Reggie Bush is probably one of my favorite athletes of all time. Thanks to all the sacrifices that my parents made. I was one of the top players in the country. I had over 30 offers to go to like any Division I school or whatever.
I went my top five, Notre Dame, BYU, USC, UCLA and Stanford. Three out of the five were all on the West Coast, Utah with BYU are my ties. Notre Dame had that feel. When I opened up that envelope and I saw that gold helmet logo, there was something different about it. Even for me being a USC fan, I was like, "There's something different about this." I got down to those five. We were talking to USC and Notre Dame. I went on my Notre Dame visit. It was around Thanksgiving, the end of November and I was a local boy in Hawaii. I flew to Chicago O'Hare Airport. I lifted the window shade and there was snow everywhere. I was in jean shorts and a t-shirt. I was like, "I'm underdressed. I'm going to freeze out there." That was my first experience. I've been at snow before.
In Hawaii, you can't go to Walmart and they have a thick coat. Nobody is going to buy that because you don't need that in Hawaii. There's no way that I could get anything. I went on my Notre Dame visit. It was their senior game. They were playing Syracuse. In 2008, Syracuse was the worst or one of the worst as far as to record football programs in the country. They were playing Notre Dame for senior night. I was there for it. It was freezing cold. It was the coldest recorded game in Notre Dame history. I left the game at half time because it was so cold. I went to the football complex. I brought out two TVs. One TV, I had the NCAA video game, the football video game. The other TV, I had the game on. Charlie Weis was the head coach at the time, in case he asked me about the game. I watched the game and they were losing to Syracuse.
Two minutes after the game, I said, "It's time I walked back." I walked back to the stadium. I stood in a tunnel. I watched the end of the game and they lost. Immediately after they lost, the whole stadium started throwing snowballs at Notre Dame in their home stadium. I was like, "There's no way I'm coming here." Fast forward to the last week in January, I went on my USC visit. It was recruiting weekend. They brought in all the top recruits and red carpet, all of that. I had a blast. I met Rey Maualuga, one of the guys that I looked to in my high school career that was a linebacker at USC. He is one of my good friends now.
I met a whole bunch of guys, Troy Polamalu. His pictures were everywhere. Reggie Bush was over there. At that time, his stuff was over there. I was like, "I'm here." I had a blast. I left on that trip on Friday. Signing day is always the first Wednesday in February. That's how I know how the dates of when I went. Before I left, my dad sat me down. I hadn't committed anywhere yet. He said, "When you come back, we're going to talk it as a family and we're going to decide where you're going to go." I said, "All right, cool."
I left Friday, I got back Saturday or Sunday. I remember Sunday we had that talk. I was home on Sunday. We were sitting in our living room as a family. My dad said, "Where's it going to be?" I told him straight up, "I'm going to USC." He was like, "Pray about it." I was like, "All right, cool." Monday came, I went to school. It was the same thing, I told my friends, "I'm going to USC." It's an hour and a half away from where we live, my high school. My dad picked us up from school on Monday. He drove us home. He was like, "You're still solid on USC?" I said, "Yup." He said, "Did you pray about it?" I was like, "Nope." He was like, "Make sure you pray about it."
It was more that I was so solid on that I was going to go to USC. It wasn't necessarily like I was scared of what the answer. I was like, "I know for myself this is where I'm going." Remember, signing day is on Wednesday. Tuesday came and we went to school. My dad said, "Have you prayed about it yet?" I said, "No, not yet." He was like, "Son, signing day is tomorrow. Make sure you pray about it." I said, "I'll pray about it." I went to school. I was sitting in an English class. We were watching Dead Poet's Society. As I was watching that movie, I can't tell you what it's about.
I can tell you that I could relate to the boy and how his dad wants him to do this. He wants to do this. It wasn't my dad who wanted me to do. I felt like USC wants me to go here. Notre Dame wants me to go here. My coaches want me to go here. My uncle wants me to go here. I felt that pull. In the middle of the class, I got this impression, say a prayer. Lights were off a little bit. Kids nowadays don't know the struggle. There's no PowerPoint thing that comes down anymore. They roll the TV on in the stand. It was the shape of a box. Kids don't know that TV's were once like a box.
I literally closed my eyes and said a quick prayer. I asked our Heavenly Father, "I want to go to USC. Is that the place that you want me to go? In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen." As I look back, it felt that immediately when I said amen, my phone rang. I looked at it and it was my dad. I let it go to voicemail. I leaned over and listened to my phone in the middle of the movie. Basically, my dad said, "Son, the Notre Dame coaches emailed. They wanted to wish you luck tomorrow. I hope you do well, but they know that wherever you go, you'll be successful. I love you. I’ll See you after school. Bye."
The class ended and I walked up to the Athletic Department. My head coach, his name is Kale Ane, his dad, Charlie Ane, was in the USC Hall of Fame for football. I walked into his office. I was like, "I'm about to talk ball with this man." He was like, "Come on, let's talk." I walked in there. He was like, "Where are we going?" I told him, "I think I'm going to USC." When I said that, I had a different picture of what his reaction would be. He nodded his head and was like, "Congratulations." I was like, "All right." He was like, "Who else was on your decision? Who else were you trying to decide with?" I was like, "Basically, them and Notre Dame."
He was like, "Notre Dame. I thought you'd go to Notre Dame. You seem like a Notre Dame type of guy," from a head coach. He was like, "I'm so proud of you. You're going to love it, whatever." I stepped out of his office and right next to his office is the Assistant AD. I walked past. I walked into the assistant AD. He goes, "Come on." He's an energetic guy. I walked in there. He was like, "Where are we going tomorrow?" I said, "I'm going to USC." He was like, "That's cool." It's the same question. He was like, "Who was it down to?" I was like, "USC and Notre Dame."
He was like, "I don't know if you ever heard of the Notre Dame Alumni Program." That group of alum is strong and they had influences everywhere. I was sitting at this and looking at this man. I was like, "Okay." He was like, "USC got a good alumni program too though. You'll be good. It's a good decision." I walked out of there and that last office, my uncle Gary, his name was Gary Satterwhite, a black guy. I call him uncle because he's one of those guys that was there for me while I was at Punahou. That's the name of my high school.
He was that guy that always encouraged me and took me under his wing. He was a track coach. He put me in and he sat me down. He was like, "Where are we going, nephew?" Before I walked into this office, I was solid on USC. He said, "What do you mean?" I was like, "I talked to coach Kale and I talked to the assistant AD, I got this feeling like I don't know." He was like, "What do you mean?" I said, "Why do you keep bringing up Notre Dame?" He was like, "Who are you down to?" I was like, "I was solid on the USC. I was thinking between them and Notre Dame." He was like, "I'm going to tell you something, where do you want to go?"
I said, "I want to go to USC." He said, "You know I love you. I treat you like my son. You're going to go to USC and you're going to be the next great Polynesian football player. You're going to be the next Junior Seau. You're going to be the next Troy Polamalu. You're going to be the next Rey Maualuga. I always thought you'd go to a place like Notre Dame and be the only Manti Te'o." He smiled at me and said, "Whatever you decide, I know that you made the right decision." I hugged him. I told him I love him. Literally right when I walked out of that office door, it hit me like a ton of bricks that, "I gave you your answer."
The school finished. I was sitting and was quiet because as the sixth-grade boy, I got the answer that I know where I'm supposed to go. I asked if I could go to the Waterpark. “No,” dad told me sometimes the easiest thing to do is pray. The hardest thing is the follow through with the answer you get. Fast forward, I'm 18, I got my answer. I want to go to USC. We were sitting in the car on the way home. We were about halfway in the drive and my dad started, "Tomorrow, we’ve got to wake up early because we have to go to the convention center for the signing. I got the hats."
He went through all the details of tomorrow. He was like, "You’ve got to grab the USC." In the middle of the drive, I said, "I'm not going to USC." He goes off and put it in park. I remember it was in Kahaluu. It's this town in Hawaii that's the midpoint between Laie and Punahou. He looked at me and said, "What do you mean you're not going to USC?" I was like, "I'm not going to USC." He looked at me and said, "You prayed about it, didn't you?" I said, "Yup." He said, "Where are we going?" I said, "I'm going to Notre Dame." He gave me a hug. We were crying in the car. He was crying because he was proud. I was crying because it was different from the decision that I wanted.
From that moment on, I knew and I was so solid on the answer that next morning. I made a point to call every college that offered me and to give them that call and say, "Thank you for the opportunity, but I've decided to go elsewhere." USC and Notre Dame were the only two schools that I didn't call. I called USC that morning. I talked to Pete Carroll. I talked to Ken Norton, who was the linebacker coach at that time. You had to remember Pete Carroll, USC, that was the dynasty of college football. That was it. We jumped in the car and the convention center was where my high school was at. It's for another hour and fifteen to get there. I was on the phone from 6:00 AM with the USC head coaches. They were telling me, "What are you doing? We had all of these plans? What else do you want? You're going to be our linebacker. You're not going to be able to turn around that program."
I knew for some reason when you get that confirmation that you know that God wants you to do this, there is no swaying me. Right before I stepped into the doors to go sign, I was like "Coach, I'm sorry. Good luck. I'll see you every year." I handed the phone over to my mom and I walked in there and I signed. At that time, even as I was signing those papers, I was like, "What am I doing?" It didn't take long for me to start to see why. I spent the majority of my freshman year homesick. End of my freshman year, I started to realize and I started to let Notre Dame become a part of me. I started to see that it could possibly be home for me. Four years later, I looked back at that career and I was like, "Only God could do that.”
Dustin
You've aged since that time, but do you think it's getting easier to see the signs from God or in things? Can you see these signs better or not?
Manti
We all go through phases in our life. I always feel when I'm listening to the side of the world, the noise, the luxury, the glamor, the lights, and all of that, I can't hear him. I need to be listening to him. Your best friend, your mom, your dad, you could be in the middle of a war and you will always hear that. Your mom or dad says something, you're like, "They're here." We've all been in that situation. Why is that? We talk to them all the time. I talked to them all the time, I don't necessarily need to see them and know that they're in the room. It's the same thing with my communication with God. If I've talked to you all the time, I'll know that voice. If I don't, how am I supposed to know and distinguish that voice between all the other ones? Especially in our society nowadays where the outside voices are so loud now like Instagram, Facebook and social media.
You don't have a job. You need a job. You've got to go play in the Super Bowl. There are so many distractions that if you anchor yourself to the man, to your Savior Jesus, out of everybody in this world, I know besides my parents, He’s even more so than my parents, He wants the best for me. He knows what I can be. He knows my strengths, my weaknesses. He knows what He wants me to be. He knows where He wants me to go in this life. Sometimes we're like, "I want to go here. I want to be this. I want to be the highest paid linebacker in the NFL. I want to be a Super Bowl champ. I want to invest in all offense, commercials. I want to do this. I want to go to USC. “No, you're going to go to Notre Dame. No, you're going to tear your Achilles." He always finds a way to say, "Focus up. I want you to go here."
Dustin
I asked because I feel as I've gotten older, I've been maybe more open to the signs, whereas before. I was tripped up by other things. I know a lot of people can relate to that. I was curious if that was your case.
Manti
I say my prayers in the morning and at night. The first thing I would do back then was, “In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” Get up and walk. “In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” Go to sleep. Sometimes take a few minutes to sit there and listen. You asked the man. Give Him a chance to talk to answer you. You asked him a question, let Him answer you. Sometimes we’re like, "Amen,” and we go throughout our day. Listen. Go throughout your day and see. When you have that lens of, “God is trying to communicate with me at all times. Who am I listening to? Am I listening to Him or am I listening to all of these people, all of these distractions, diamonds, jewelry and Rolls-Royce? Am I listening to that? Who am I listening to?” If I listened to them, I promise you that's all I'm going to hear. If I listened to Him, that voice for some reason gets a little quiet. It never goes mute. You can never mute that and like how you can never meet this, but they go a little quieter. You become a little more sensitive to what He wants. After you pray, sit there and listen. If you don't hear something, maybe it's not that time yet. You have to continue.
Dustin
Manti, you drafted 38 overall by the San Diego Super Chargers. You had a stint with the New Orleans Saints. I know you're a man that learns from others. You are a leader. You're a captain on the field. What was your experience in the NFL and what have you learned from others that are there? What do you take away?
Manti
I've learned, I've taken things from certain players. I've brought it in and created a better me. I will never adopt fully somebody else and try to mimic what they do because I can't do what they do. I'll take something and make it a part of me. Eric Weddle, I call him big brother, is probably the most influential guy for me in the NFL. He's also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Even more so we talk about those two worlds. NFL, there's all the stereotypes. Honestly, there are some that fit that stereotype and there're some that don't. I'm a kid, I was broke and within days, I'm a millionaire.
I have Eric Weddle over here saying, "Let me show you what this looks like. Let me show you what this means. Let me walk you down this path." He was the guy that helped me to not only stay true to my faith in a football locker room, but he showed me what it meant to be pro. He's showed me that work starts at 7:00 AM and it ends at 5:00 PM. That's for everybody. The great ones stay from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM or they come in at 4:00 AM. I had my success in college football. I had my success prior to that. I'm not a stranger to hard work. I'm not a stranger to sacrifices. That's what got me there.
That was another detail about outworking everybody. You're not trying to outwork the Broncos, the Raiders. You're trying to outwork the guy that's in a locker room with you that's trying to take your spot. He's one of those guys that taught me how to study film more efficiently. There are thousands of plays. Imagine going through thousands of all those plays and they're all different. He taught me his way of structuring those plays so they all make sense. They're all in order. They all tell the story.
Dwight Freeney comes along. Dwight Freeney was with the Chargers. I was studying all of this and he was like, "Don't study too much because there's a thing called paralysis by analysis. You study so much, you go out on the field and that little slight hesitation is going to cost you. Study enough so that you can play fast. That's when you know when to stop. Don't say I'm going to study for two hours. I'm going to study for three hours. I'm going to study for 30 minutes. Study until it makes sense. Once it makes sense, then stop regardless of how long it takes, then you move forward."
Dwight Freeney was one of those guys. Jarret Johnson was another one of those guys. He was a long time Ravens outside linebacker. He played with Ray Lewis. He was about work ethic. He was in year '11 and '12 in year two or three and this guy, his running back was down. He was chasing after him, after the play all the way down to the end zone. I was like, "If that old man is running, I'd better run over there." He consistently showed. It wasn't like, "One practice, I'm going to do it, every day." I learned a lot from different people.
Drew Brees, that guy is the GOAT. He's the epitome of it. He's the first one in the building and he's the last one out. The thing that I took from Drew is his ability to visualize. Drew Brees meditates and visualizes this thing so well. Saturday, the day before the game, we're doing a walkthrough. We always have a walkthrough. We play Sunday, watch the film on Monday, day off Tuesday. That day off Tuesdays we all come in, work out and watch the films. It's no day off. It's a day off from working out and whatever.
Wednesday is our first day of practice. Thursdays are our second day where we do third down. Friday, usually they'd start to taper it down a little bit. Saturday is a walkthrough. Sunday, let's go fly. Saturday, we're in doing a walkthrough. One of the days after the walkthrough, I was like, "I need to get a sweat before this game." I feel that I'm a little lethargic, a little heavy. I need to feel light. I went to the weight room. I was on the treadmill and jogging. That was about 30, 40 minutes after the walkthrough.
I finished my little workout. I walked over and the door out of the weight room is right next to the door to the indoor facility at the Saints. You can see right before I walk out this door, I was looking and I could see the indoor facility through the windows. I looked and I saw one guy there. He had a red jersey on which is number nine. He was in there and he was walking around. I didn't want to disturb. I opened the door and I walked into the indoor facility and it closed behind me. I sat and I watched. This man started off at the ten-yard line. He got down on a knee.
He was looking up as if he's in a huddle, claps, breaks the huddle, comes out and he starts pointing as if there's a defense out there. He starts checking with receivers that aren't there. He goes through a progression. Drew Brees, he'll go through the pressure, he would go to a throwing motion, whenever he throws a ball, he'll immediately start pivoting to his other options. He'll throw it here, but then he'll pivot and he'll go down the line to his other receivers, run ten yards, stand, get the call, point out, signal to his receivers, boom and go back.
You can tell by watching him, whether it's a deep pass, medium pass or short pass because he tilted his shoulders as if he was throwing the ball. When he did that, I was watching. I was like, "That's a check down." He probably hit Ted Ginn for a seam route. He probably hit Michael Thomas on the little ten-yard dig, so he starts going in. Remember after he throws the ball, he starts going to his progression. It's like a gun. He does it all the way down the field. He gets down to the opposite ten. He hit somebody and he puts his hands up as if he scored a touchdown. He goes like that and starts running back and I'm in awe.
I was sitting there. It’s my first year with the Saints. I'm in awe of this man. I was like, "He is probably one of the greatest to ever play the game." His numbers and stats speak for themselves. I know him on a personal level. He is one of the best human beings that I've ever met, one of the fiercest competitors, and he's out here. There's nobody else out here. He's the captain of our team. Everybody was gone and eating at Jimmy John's because he's a part owner of Jimmy John's. We're all in there eating Jimmy John's and he's out here visualizing stuff, so what do I do? He leaves. I was like, "It’s my turn." I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm trying to like, "If Drew was doing it, I’ve got to do it." You don't know who's watching you. You don't know, anybody.
Dustin
You mentioned Drew as a leader, you're a leader, you're a captain and you got a lot of personalities in the NFL. How do you manage and motivate others? We've got a lot of entrepreneurs that come in. Everyone that comes and interacts with somebody, your family members, your coworkers. How did you manage different people? How did you communicate with different members of the team?
Manti
You have to get to know each individual on a personal level. There's no way that I can lead you if I don't know what motivates you. I always say, “I’ve got to look at what makes you tick. Why do you do what you do? What special do you do? What motivates you?” If I can do that now, I know how to motivate you. My leadership style is to make everybody feel a part of something. The best leaders aren't the guys who say, "Follow me." The best leaders are the guys who empower the individual to chase after the same things, "This is what we want. Let's all go," not, "I'm over here. You come over here." Finding out what makes sense to you and what's special to you because what's special to you may be different to so and so, Drew, Michael Thomas or Demario Davis, Craig Robertson and Alex Anzalone. Everybody's different.
As a leader, I want everybody to feel that they are important because they are. Once you make them feel important and once you make them feel included, you can be like, "I’ve got the dogs with me and now they'll go wherever I want them to go. Let's go get a championship. Let's go get this commercial real estate project. Let's WealthFit, let's inspire as long as you’ve got a team.” I don't know who said it, but there's that quote that says, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." If you want to go fast, go by yourself. You're definitely going to get there, but you won't get far. You want to go far, go together. That's always been me.
Dustin
Manti, I want to talk a little money. This is the Get WealthFit show. You hear the stories. Guys come into a lot of money, the overnight millionaires. Guys leave the NFL a couple of years after, the money's gone. You've taken a proactive approach to invest in your education. How did you make that decision to not become a statistic?
Manti
It goes back to my parents and seeing their sacrifices. When you come up a certain way, there's a certain mentality that you don't want to go back. I don't want to go back to that. I'm not that. I'm ashamed of where it came because I never felt that I was without. I never felt that we didn't have or anything. I knew that mom and dad busted their tails to give us everything that they could. They did. I knew as a son of them and as the eldest in my family that it was my obligation to not only take myself, my whole family and get us out of that. They definitely planted that seed.
Talking about adversities, I got a wakeup call when I tore my Achilles, so my fourth year with the Chargers. I got my nicks and bruises in college and all of that. It's nothing serious. I never missed one game in college. I played every game in college. I never missed anything. I got to the NFL, my first preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, I broke my foot. The first huge injury that I ever had. I was out for a few weeks. They were like, "We'll rest you for six weeks. Let it heal up then you can play.” The bone isn't going to heal up like that. I played the rest of that season with a fractured foot. I got surgery on it at the end of the year. I got it fixed. I came back the next day. I sprained and re-fractured that same foot in my second year. On my third year, I had a high ankle sprain on the right foot. Everything is on my right for some reason. I had a drawback there.
The fourth year was my contract year. I signed a four-year deal. Contract year is a big year. You'd ball, you get paid. I was the captain of my team. My defensive coordinator told me, "I spoke to the gym. You play sixteen games." That's how many regular season games we have. He said, "You play sixteen games and we'll take care of you." I came in that year in the best shape of my life. I was grinding like Rocky Balboa type, old school. I checked into training camp. I was about five pounds, six pounds lighter. I was flying around. I had four years in that system, so I know it like the back of my hand. I felt like I was in college again and I was making calls.
The first game, we lose against Kansas City, but I had statistically a good game. The second game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, we won that game at home. I still had a good game. In those two games, I had eighteen tackles in total. We were off to a good start. The third game came and we were playing the Colts in Indy. It was the beginning of the second quarter, I already had four tackles. I dropped back in my zone. It was either the tight end or running back, I saw him sneaking up to the flat to my right. When I saw that, I saw Andrew Luck turned to throw the ball to him. When I saw him turn, I planted my left foot. Right when I planted my left foot, it popped.
Right when that happened, I started bawling. I started bawling not because of the pain. I started bawling because all those years I've been playing football since I was five years old. My dad had been training me since I was five. I've never been to San Diego. Everybody in San Diego said, "Why haven't you been to the zoo?" There's a story behind that. When I was little, every summer, we would all go to town. My mom would take us kids to the zoo, but every Saturday in the summer, my dad would go somewhere. I was like, "Where's dad going? How come we go to the zoo every week seeing the same monkey spinning around the tree and dad's going somewhere?"
I came to find out that dad was going to coaching clinics, trying to teach himself how to be the best coach for me. We were doing that since five years old. I tore my Achilles. I faced down on the turf and those memories since I was five years old started flashing before my eyes. I went back to that place where I said I'll never go back to. I already knew that it was torn. We went to the locker room. They told me it was torn. I said, "How long is the recovery?" They said, "You're done. You're not going to be yourself probably for another eight to twelve." I was like, "What am I going to do? That's my contract here. I've been hurt half of my career. Who's going to pick me up? Football could be over." I sat in there.
I believe it was Instagram and I saw an advertisement for FortuneBuilders. I went to the little seminar that they had and I was sold. I was like, "I’ve got to do this." That's what started the whole FortuneBuilders thing. I went there. It's funny because I was sitting in there and everybody was looking like, "What are you doing here?" The Charger fans were like, "What are you doing?" I was like, "I'm trying to learn. Adversities, had I not tore my Achilles, I would not be sitting here.” You see how that all works. I would not know what I know about real estate. There are two projects in Dallas and the other one that's in Austin that's coming up. I was like, "Let me do this." It’s these adversities turning on its head and let's move.
Dustin
I’ve got to ask this. This is a personal Dustin question. You get that first check. Do you get a check? Is it a deposit? What was it like getting that first big check?
Manti
I get that check. When I got the check, I was like, "Where's the other half?" I looked at it and I was like, "Uncle Sam took half of my paycheck. He took a comma out." They're supposed to be two of those in there. There was one by the time it got to me. My whole thing was even more so, I was like, "I’ve got to start educating myself on my finances.” At that time, I was like, “How do I save?” At FortuneBuilders, we know like, "It's not necessarily about saving. Save but let your money work for you.” When I got that first check, I was so excited when I opened it up. I pulled the thing out, I looked at it and I was like, "There's something wrong with this." It was a good little lesson from me about taxes and the beautiful state of California, the state income tax.
Dustin
That's a big lesson for everyone because we hear these numbers being thrown around, which aren't necessarily what you get plus there are taxes on top of it. Even though it's a big check and everyone's like, "He's got some money." It's crazy.
Manti
That's the thing about NFL contracts is they're not all guaranteed. When they present the contract on ESPN or whatever, they always present the max that they could get. They're like, "He's signed a five-year, $30 million." What they don't show is the fine print that says, "In year one, you're going to make $800,000. If you make it and we don't cut you to your two, then you start making all your stuff in your four, five, six, maybe if it's a six." There are all these incentives, some of them are incentive-based. My contract with the Saints was an incentive base. I understood why because I had my career with the Charges, I was injured so a lot of it was playing time, being healthy. You could have made if we play you, you start and you play these number of place, you'll make in two years $7 million. In two years I left out of there with probably $1.6 million, $1.7 million which is a lot. It could have been $7 million. Everybody thinks I have $7 million. I had $1.6 million, $1.7 million.
Dustin
I want to know, what do you want your legacy to be? After you're done, what do you want the world to know about you?
Manti
That he never forgot who he was. My dad always told me growing up, "Remember who you are and whose you are. You're not only our son, but you're God's son." With those two things already, there are so many things that come with that. I know that wherever I go, when people see me, they see that. I don't want them to see an NFL player. That's cool. That's what I do. I want them to see the substance. I want them to see stuff that inspires them, that motivates them. That says, "Because I knew Manti, I'm a better person. I knew Manti and I knew not only his accomplishments but I knew his setbacks that now I believe that my setbacks, I can overcome those."
I'm giving people hope. I don't know specifically what. I want people to know me like this. I always want to be somebody that when I go around to people that I make them better people. I make them believe in themselves. When people start believing in themselves, then you start to see how powerful those people can become. I always say with my leadership, how I lead. I want you to believe in you. I don't want you to believe in me. You can't believe me if you don't believe in yourself. I want you to believe in you. By believing in you, then we can make some things happen. I would say my legacy is representing who I represent. Remember that I didn't change, but also making people better people, helping them to believe in themselves and seeing how special they are as people.
Dustin
If folks want to continue the journey, keep tabs with what you're up to in the NFL and the charity work that you do, the investments may be that you place, if you can talk about them, where do people best do that?
Manti
My dad and I, we've been in talks about starting our foundation. I've always been bouncing back. I love working with children. For the past two years, a buddy of mine has worked with children with cancer. For the past two years, we've done things with The Friends of Scott. I don't know if you've ever heard of them before. It's an organization, which was made around a boy named Scott who had cancer. The Friends of Scott Foundation is run by his mother. Every year they have this prom. If you ever want to be reminded of how grateful you are and how fortunate you are, go to a prom for those kids. All those kids will put a smile on your face. It will put life in the right perspective. If you ever want to reach out to me, reach out to Dustin, reach out to anybody that knows me, you can reach out to me directly. I don't have a lot of social media presence. I have an Instagram. I use my Instagram to mainly inspire people, to show a little bit about my life. You'll see a lot of my pup on there. That's my pride and joy. I got my pup after I tore my Achilles. He's my best friend.
Dustin
Manti, thanks for being on the show. It’s true wisdom that you shared. WealthFit Nation, thanks for reading. I want to encourage you to follow Manti on Instagram, keep tabs. He's doing amazing work. You can tell he's a genuine guy. I want to personally thank you for sharing your wisdom because it's our goal to inspire, touch and move people. You've done that in so many ways with your story. You've done it with talking about investing. That's our hope is that people get wealth fit. Manti, thanks for doing what you do. If you were moved, touched, inspired by this, do us a favor and share the wealth and spread the message. Share it with somebody that you think would benefit from this, somebody that needs a little motivation, somebody that maybe is not where they are in life or maybe somebody that wants to get invested, been on the sideline. Share it up and spread the wealth. We'll see you at the next show.

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