SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Notre Dame freshman linebacker Manti Te'o said Saturday he will delay taking a Mormon mission and return next season.
Te'o, who started the last eight games for the Irish and was fourth on the team with 63 tackles, said he's not sure when he will take his two-year mission.
"I'm not sure if I'm going to take it after next year or later on in life," he said.
The 63 tackles by Te'o are the third most ever for a Notre Dame freshman. Linebacker Bob Golic finished with 82 in 1975 and defensive end Ross Browner had 68 in 1973. The 6-foot-2, 244-pound Hawaiian arrived on campus as the most highly rated defensive recruit for Notre Dame in years.
He had 10 tackles in the season finale against Stanford and also against Washington.
He said he reached his decision after talking with his parents, other family members and his bishop in South Bend. He called it the biggest decision of his life.
"I knew the impact of my decision could have a positive influence on those who follow me and those who watch what I do. I always want to have a positive influence on them," he said. "I just thought that I was sent to Notre Dame for a purpose and that is a purpose I have to devote to."
Te'o said Brian Kelly being named the new Notre Dame coach after Charlie Weis was fired was not a factor in his decision.
"Football wasn't a factor. It was strictly a spiritual thing for me," he said.
The decision means Kelly will have at least one key contributor back next season from a squad that lost its last four games to finish 6-6. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen and wide receiver Golden Tate announced earlier this month they will bypass their senior seasons and enter the NFL draft.