Awards circuit forces humble Notre Dame star Manti Te'o to take a bow

Collecting postseason honors alongside his parents proves to be an emotional experience for Te'o

The moments Manti Te'o shoved aside to focus on football seemed to finally catch up with the 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker.

For 18 weeks, all those emotions he worked so hard to keep in check seemed to flood back to Manti Te'o. The countless hours on and off the football field. The close battles, the heartache and loss, the love and admiration for his fellow teammates and coaches. It was all there and it left the Notre Dame superstar speechless.

"To be honest with you, I am just so happy right now," Te'o said following Thursday night's ESPN college football awards show at the Atlantic Dance Hall on Disney's Boardwalk. "I couldn't ever imagining this happening. I'm just very grateful."

Earlier that evening, the senior claimed the Chuck Bednarik Award for the nation's top defender and was named the Maxwell Award winner as the nation's top player.


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He became just the eighth Notre Dame player to win the award, but only the second in the past 25 years.

For the third straight season, he led the team in tackles (103) and was tied for second in the nation in interceptions (7). His performance not only earned him a ticket to Orlando, but all over the country.

During the past week, Te'o traveled close to 9,000 miles racking up accolades like tackles in a game. He picked up the Butkus, Lombardi and Nagurski awards along the way.

He was in New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, where he finished second to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. He followed that up with another cross-country trip to Newport Beach, Calif., for the Lott Trophy ceremony .

Then it's back to South Bend and Notre Dame Monday, where the graphic design major has two finals and three projects waiting for him.

Oh, and then there's that whole BCS Championship Game in less than a month against Alabama in Miami. It's something that hasn't slipped past Te'o amid all the attention.

"I've got to be in the best shape, the best mentally locked in," said Te'o. "I have to be because it's Alabama."

Te'o said he is grateful for the opportunity and looks forward to representing Notre Dame. It's an experience he won't soon forget, especially having his parent by his side throughout the whirlwind awards tour.

"That's something that money can't buy," Te'o said.

It's that family upbringing and humble personality despite his unprecedented success that has made him one of the more popular figures in college football. Several fans on Disney's Boardwalk carried a "Heismanti" poster and begged for an autograph. It's an obligation that Te'o doesn't take lightly.

"It's a big responsibility for me and I take a lot of pride in it," Te'o said. "I'm not perfect. I make my mistakes, but I try in whatever way to have a positive impact on people, especially young kids who are aspiring to be something great."

It all goes back to a saying he was once told.

"If you shoot for the stars and you fall short, you will land in a cloud," he said. "If you put in the work, everything will be fine."

mmurschel@tribune.com

Coaching moves

There have been 24 head coaching moves made this offseason, with 11 schools are completing the hiring process. USF announced it hired former Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart to replace Skip Holtz, who was fired after three seasons. Another big name hire was Tommy Tuberville, who left Texas Tech to take the head coaching job at Cincinnati after Butch Jones jumped to Tennessee. Tuberville is the oldest "new" coaching hire at 58, while Taggart is the youngest at 36.

This and that

Here are some odds and ends from this week's college football awards in Orlando.

"I mean, that's a pretty sweet nickname," Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein when asked his thoughts on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel's popular Johnny Football moniker.

Most of the country — as well as most of the SEC — knows just how much Manziel can improvise when a play breaks down. Teammate Luke Joeckel, who won the Outland Trophy for the nation's top interior lineman, said Manziel's shifty moves can be taxing for even his own team. "It's pretty challenging," Joeckel said. "I really don't have a clue what he's doing back there. Being 310 pounds and running around for 18 seconds on a play can get pretty tiring."

On the web

Every Thursday in our new online segment, Matt's Mailbag, I will be answering your questions about the college football postseason. Send me your questions by email, Twitter, or Facebook. Please include a first name, and I will answer them online at our College Gridiron 365 blog.

For more college football news, head over to our blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/collegegridiron or you can like us at Facebook.com/collegegridiron 365 and add me on Google +. Follow us on Twitter at @osmattmurschel and @gridiron365.

 

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