Maui Sports

Manti Te’o Selected as Finalist for Heisman Trophy

December 3, 2012, 6:05 PM HST
* Updated December 3, 6:07 PM
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Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o led the unbeaten Fighting Irish defense with 103 tackles, seven interceptions and a 12-0 record. Notre Dame will play Alabama in the Discover BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7 in Miami. Photo by Getty Images.

By Rodney S. Yap

Linebacker Manti Te’o of Notre Dame became the first Hawaii-born player selected as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy on Monday.

Te’o will join Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in New York for Saturday’s announcement on ESPN.

Earlier today, Te’o accepted the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation’s top defensive player and the Butkus Award which goes to the top college linebacker. Te’o also won the high school Butkus Award as a senior at Punahou School.

In addition to the 2012 Walter Camp Player of the Year award, on Thursday, Nov. 29,  Awards and Recognition Association President Lori Warren presented the 2012 Awards and Recognition Association Sportsmanship Award to Te’o in South Bend, Ind.

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The postseason awards doesn’t figure to end soon as Te’o is also a finalist for the Campbell, Lombardi, Bednarik, Maxwell and Lott Trophies.

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“I want to congratulate Manti Te‘o for the dual honor of receiving the Butkus Award and being named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy,” said Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie. “The mission of the Heisman Trophy is to recognize outstanding college football players who exhibit excellence with integrity. Manti epitomizes great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Teo holds a sportsmanship award he received from the Awards and Recognition Association, Thursday Nov. 29, in South Bend, Ind. AP Photo/Joe Raymond.

“Manti is the heart and soul of an undefeated Notre Dame team. He’s an inspiration to all the people of Hawai‘i, particularly to our youth as they dream and strive for excellence.

“I agree with his coach, Brian Kelly, who said that if Manti doesn’t win the Heisman, just cut to the chase and give all future awards to the offensive player of the year. Manti is a superb athlete and role model who has generated tremendous pride throughout our state and country. He is deserving of the Heisman.”

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Te’o is trying to become the first defense-only player to win a Heisman and the eighth player from Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish have had seven Heisman winners, tied for the most, but none since Tim Brown in 1987.

The middle linebacker and captain has provided strong senior leadership for a Notre Dame club that ran the table and is playing for its first national championship in the BCS era. Te’o had seven interceptions and 103 tackles for the Irish (12-0), who will take on Alabama in the Discover BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7 in Miami.

The highest finish by a Hawaii born and bred player was a fourth in 1945 by running back Herman Wedemeyer, a Saint Louis School graduate who played for St. Mary’s (Calif.).

University of Hawai’i quarterback Colt Brennan was third in 2007 behind Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and Arkansas running back Darren McFadden.

Manziel, a redshirt freshman, passed for 3,418 yards and 24 touchdowns, with eight passes intercepted. He also rushed for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns while leading Texas A&M to a 10-2 record, including a victory at Alabama.

Klein, a senior, passed for 2,490 yards and 15 touchdowns, with seven passes intercepted. He also rushed for 890 yards and 22 touchdowns while leading Kansas State to an 11-1 record and the Big 12 Conference championship. Kansas State will play Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.

Hawaii-born Notre Dame players Manti Te’o (left), Shane Victorino and Robby Toma (right) flash “shaka” signs after the Fighting Irish season finale in South Bend, Ind. Photo courtesy Shane Victorino Foundation.

After winning the ARA Sportsmanship Award Te’o compared the honored with becoming an Eagle Scout.

“It definitely means a lot to me,” he said. “I draw a comparison from this to my Eagle Scout award. It’s nothing that has it’s not focused on football, my athletic ability. It’s focused on the individual and who they are as a person. I think it honors, like I said before, the values that my parents instilled in me, and it just goes to show that I was definitely born of goodly parents and parents that took the time to show me what I should do and show me by example the person I should become. I hope I’ve made them proud, and this award has definitely shown me that to a certain extent I did listen to them when I was younger.”

Te’o also talked about his love for his school, which he calls his “family.”

“I love Notre Dame. I love this place. This place is definitely special. It’s not a school. This place is not a school; it’s a family; it’s a place that you’ll always be connected with and welcomed for the rest of your life, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, and I can’t picture myself anywhere else but here under the dome and with the team, with my teammates, and just experiencing everything. I’m definitely going to miss this place and definitely grateful that I came here. It’s been the best four years of my life.

Te’o was asked to talk about what his experience at Notre Dame means to the people back in Hawaii.

Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o is recognized on Thursday, Nov. 29, during the NCAA basketball game between Kentucky at Notre Dame. Photo by Joseph Weiser / Ai Wire.

“I can’t really say because I’m not home experiencing it,” Te’o said. “My main thing is to show the kids back home that we can step out of that bubble. Hawai’i is such a comfortable place to be, and you don’t want to leave. For us kids who grew up there, it’s definitely hard to leave. When you leave Hawai’i, it’s far, and so for us to leave that nest is definitely something that’s very difficult and something that kids are very afraid of, and I think not only myself but people like Robby and Kona and Marcus Mariota who’s at Oregon and various Hawai’i athletes who are attending school here on the mainland, we’re just an example to those kids of, ‘Hey, it’s okay to leave.’

“Hawai’i is always going to be there. If your dream is to play Division I football outside of the University of Hawai’i, you can do it. We’re doing it, so there’s no reason why you can’t.”

Maui’s Shane Victorino watched Te’o play his last home game in South Bend. Te’o was asked about his relationship with the Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star center fielder.

“He’s just a real close friend of mine, and that was the first time that he got to meet my family,” Te’o said. “Everybody sees Shane as the World Series champ and just all that, but when you’re sitting with Shane and just talking, he’s just one of the boys. He’s real cool, just real laid back. He provides a perspective for all of us who are aspiring to go to the pros, you know what I mean. He gives us his experiences and what to look out for and just always being there for me and for Robby and the rest of the kids from Hawai’i and just telling us like how I’m an example to the little kids back home of how you can come here and you can do it, and he’s my example of hey, I made it to the pros, you can do it, too.”

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