- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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Grace did not know much about Te'o at the time, other than the fact that he was a very coveted football player. Then he started watching the linebacker play at Notre Dame. And soon enough, the Irish were making a push for the Cincinnati native himself as he starred at Colerian High.
"I knew he was a tremendous player, and that's something I looked for -- OK, if I go here, I'm going to have this great mentor," Grace said. "And so that was something that excited me as well, just knowing there's great players on this team, I can learn from them and maybe even develop my skills and be one of those players."
Te'o made his biggest national statement last year at Oklahoma, notching 11 tackles, drilling Landry Jones for a nasty sack and delivering a devastating pick late in the fourth quarter. His shoes this time around will be filled by Grace, who is coming off his first career start as he readies to face the No. 14 Sooners this Saturday in front of a crowd aspiring to "green-out" Notre Dame Stadium.
"You always want to emulate the greats in terms of their production, just how [galvanizing] they can be," Grace said. "But you want to fit within your team at that time. You can't necessarily have those dynamics when the team's changed. This is a whole new team this year. We have different guys, different playmakers, so you just kind of take the things you can and just try to fill the role that's created for you as well."
Grace has done well in that role so far. The redshirt sophomore matched fellow inside linebacker Carlo Calabrese with a team-high eight stops Saturday in a 17-13 win over Michigan State, and he now leads the Irish with 28 tackles through four games.
Grace was a bystander during last season's season-defining 30-13 win in Norman, Okla., when the Irish held the Sooners to just 15 rushing yards.
Oklahoma enters this contest rushing for 271.7 yards per game, good for 16th nationally. But No. 22 Notre Dame will undoubtedly be the best team undefeated Oklahoma has faced so far, as the Sooners have played three teams with a combined 2-6 mark against FBS opponents this season.
Still, be it from watching Michigan's struggles after beating them, or from their close call against a struggling Purdue team, the Irish know they are getting everyone's top shot.
"If you do let off the gas for a second, everybody's going to play their best game against us," safety Matthias Farley said. "If you do get complacent, if you think that you've arrived, that's when you get caught. For us, it's one week at a time. If you do anything other than that, then you're in trouble."
16dPaula Lavigne and Nicole Noren