Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o Deserves to Win the Heisman
It’s a long, long way to Tipperary. It’s an even longer way to South Bend, Indiana from Hawaii. No one knows that like Manti Te’o, the senior linebacker for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
The University of Notre Dame is lucky that Te’o is even there. After arriving at South Bend for his recruiting trip, he showed up in shorts. Indiana in the fall is a different planet than Hawaii. The cold finally got to him and he was content to play video games indoors while the Irish lost that weekend to Syracuse 24-23 under Charlie Weiss. What was worse, he watched the fans pelt the Irish players with snowballs during the game.
After that disastrous on campus visit, Notre Dame still won out over USC, Stanford, Oregon and BYU. Te’o's father told him to follow what was in his heart and what God was telling him. Evidently, his heart told him that Notre Dame was the right choice.
Fast forward to 2012. The Irish are 10-0 and the number three team in the country with national championship aspirations. The schedule has been tough. Signature wins over Michigan State, Michigan, Stanford and Oklahoma. Close wins over BYU and Pitt which shouldn’t have been close. Of anyone on the team, it’s had to have been the toughest on Manti Te’o.
This season, within 48 hours, he was informed of the deaths of both his grandmother and his girlfriend. News that would make anyone understandably not want to play. Manti Te’o showed up and suited up.
It was his finest moment. In the face of tragedy and loss, he played out of his head as the Irish beat the Michigan Wolverines. The students and fans over 80,000 strong in Notre Dame Stadium showed their support and their love by wearing Hawaiian Leis. Many brought signs that told him how they felt.
Te’o said they reminded him of why he chose the University of Notre Dame.
Te’o anchors the #1 ranked defense in the country. The Irish have shut opponents down. That is their signature. Te’o has 6 interceptions this season. He plays hard every play he’s in. He gives his all and leaves nothing on the field at the end of the game.
Te’o is a candidate for the Heisman Trophy, an honor rarely given to a defensive player.
It’s an honor I think he richly deserves. He dominates on defense. He will likely be a first round draft pick in the NFL. He has 6 interceptions. He makes tackles and sacks the quarterback. He does it all. Every play. Every game. Period.
Manti Te’o got into the University of Notre Dame under the criterion that every applicant is judged and scrutinized. It’s acceptance rate is 24%. That means 76% of applicants are denied admission to the school. Being a highly touted football recruit makes no difference to admissions. Everyone is treated the same. No hall pass here.
His character has shown what he’s about not only this season, but every season. When Brian Kelly took over the program, it was difficult for Te’o because he was a Charlie Weiss recruit. Te’o emerged as a leader and helped smooth the transition over with the players and Coach Kelly.
On a team that had Weiss’ recruits leave early for the NFL, Te’o influenced Michael Floyd to stay and complete his degree. An ideal that Notre Dame is extremely proud of. An ideal that the school has based its reputation on.
Te’o has made it his mission to personally know everyone on the team. From well known players like Theo Riddick, on down to the scout team, where walk-ons sometimes never wear a jersey on game day, Te’o has went out of his way to know everyone and make them feel like they’re a part of the program.
Manti Te’o stands out as a leader. He’s not only a gifted player, but he has character. A rare commodity in this day and age. He’s a role model. Younger kids looking for inspiration and direction need only to take a page from his playbook on life and follow it zealously.
Te’o once said, “If you win a championship, you win a championship. If you win a championship at Notre Dame, you become a legend.”
The Fighting Irish may or may not win a national championship. Te’o may not win the Heisman. I think he should, even though what I’ve written is hardly a qualification for it. Te’o isn’t campaigning for it either.
Regardless of what happens, Manti Te’o will become part of legend and lore on the Notre Dame campus. He would like most of all to have his teammates join him in the company of Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian, Devine, Holtz, Montana, Hanratty, Bettis, Ishmael and many, many others. It’s what he wants above all, because it’s called character.