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Manti for Heisman?

Andrew Gastelum | Friday, November 30, 2012

All-American senior linebacker Manti Te’o’s nation-stretching award show itinerary resembles that of a movie star’s, with Te’o up for 14 different awards in college football. But the tour kicked off Thursday in the humblest of locales in South Bend, as Te’o received the Awards and Recognition Association’s Sportsmanship Award.

“It is hard to imagine a more deserving candidate of an award that carries the characteristics of this one than Manti,” Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick said. “Preeminent sports brands are rare. Even rarer is an athlete that perfectly captures the essence of a sports program.

“We have been incredibly privileged at the University of Notre Dame during the past four years culminating in this year to have a student-athlete who so perfectly captures the values of this institution.”

For Te’o, the award was as much a complement to his work off the field as it was on the field.

“It definitely means a lot to me. I draw comparisons to my Eagle Scout award,” he said. “This is something that is focused on football or my athletic ability, it is something that is focused on the individual and who they are as a person.”

Te’o’s circuit includes a trip to New York on Dec. 4 for the Campbell Award ceremony, given to a player combining academics, on-field performance and community service. Two days later, he will head to Buena Vista, Fla., for the Home Depot College Football Awards where he is a finalist for the Maxwell Award for most outstanding player and the Chuck Bednarik Award for defensive player of the year. The trip culminates in a return trip to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony on Dec. 8, pending an expected invitation.

But the captain said his main focus since ending the season 12-0 has been on something entirely different.

“My attention has been on just taking advantage of every day,” he said. “All I have been thinking about is the time I have left at school with my peers, with my classmates. I’ll be gone all of next week so this is my last week of school. It’s just hard for me to realize it’s coming to an end, a beautiful end.”

Te’o’s main competition in the Heisman race comes from Texas A & M freshman Johnny Manziel, who is the first freshman to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000. But as far as Te’o is concerned, he remains a fan of ‘Johnny Football.’

“I’ve seen Johnny Manziel play,” Te’o said. “[He is a] dynamic player. Really, really good playmaker. He can make something out of nothing. He’s definitely someone that’s Heisman material. I’m a real big fan.”

Although he refrained from giving away his rooting interest, Te’o said he will be a balanced viewer of Saturday’s SEC championship game between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia. The winner will meet Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7.

“I’ll enjoy it as a fan and as a future opponent,” he said. “I’ll just watch and learn and see how they work and their tendencies in that game. My main thing is finding out who we will play and get a sneak peek of what to look forward to.”

With his near-unprecedented four-year Notre Dame career coming to an end, Te’o said he will always share a special connection with his university.

“I love Notre Dame. I love this place. This place is definitely special. It’s not a school, it’s a family,” he said. “It’s a place you’ll always be connected with for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else and I couldn’t picture myself anywhere else.”

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel@nd.edu