Manti Te’o will be one of three young men sitting front row at the Heisman Trophy presentation this Saturday. Coming into the season, everyone who’d been paying attention to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish over the past year or two knew Te’o was going to be good. He was obviously going to be the leader of the Irish’s defense, but it’s hard to say that many saw the newly-crowned Nagurski and Butkus Award winner being as good or as vital to Notre Dame’s undefeated season as he has been.
Te’o’s chances of winning the Heisman Trophy are slimmer than most simply because defenders just don’t win it. It’s almost as if they have a stench to them when it comes time for the ballots to be cast.
The Michigan Wolverines‘ Charles Woodson had to do everything but make julienne fries to do win as a defensive back and there’s nothing indicating that he can’t. Ndamkuong Suh, the Nebraska Cornhuskers‘ most decorated player ever placed fourth in the 2009 vote total and he was a one-man defensive line. Te’o may have an edge due to his back story, though.
A devout Mormon, Te’o’s initial commitment to Notre Dame, a school that radiates Catholicism, was obviously a shock to those in recruiting circles. Mormon football prospects usually remain close to their faith’s communities, often committing to the Utah Utes or BYU Cougars.
Te’o went to South Bend, IN and has dominated.
Earlier this year, he suffered the loss of his grandmother to illness. A mere six hours later, he received a telephone call from his brother notifying him that his girlfriend had lost her battle with Leukemia. Honoring a promise, he never missed a game.
On the field, Te’o is as reliable of a middle linebacker as they come. Not only does he clog the middle and play the role of the defense’s quarterback amazingly well, he’s tied for No. 2 in the nation in interceptions with seven, the most by any linebacker. The next closest total by anyone at all linebacker positions is four.
Before he attempts to lead Notre Dame to a victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide which would result in its first national championship in almost a quarter century, he’ll sit in the Downtown Athletic Club among two quarterbacks. Does he have a chance to win? Maybe not, but he has every right to be there.
If he wins, it will be in the name of fighting through pain and adversity while still maintaining the strength to play at an elite level. Many could’ve folded, would’ve folded, but Te’o didn’t. That is outstanding in and of itself.
Brandon Cavanaugh is a college football columnist for Rant Sports and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter: @eightlaces