Manti Te'o is going to New York. The question is whether he'll leave the Big Apple as the first true defender to win the Heisman Trophy.

Notre Dame's senior linebacker is officially a Heisman finalist, announced Monday as a contender for the award along with Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein.

After a week of shuttling from city to city for various other honors – Te'o picked up the Butkus Award on Monday, for starters – he will arrive in New York on Friday ahead of the Saturday ceremony that will reveal whether he is the first pure defender to win college football's most prestigious individual honor.

Michigan's Charles Woodson won in 1997 as a cornerback – but punt return and occasional receive duties amplified his case. Te'o has played linebacker exclusively, amassing 103 tackles and seven interceptions for the No. 1 scoring defense in the country.

The highest a pure defensive player has ever finished: Second, in 1980, when Pittsburgh defensive end Hugh Green lost out to South Carolina running back George Rogers.

"It would be a great honor for my team," Te'o said last week, when asked about the Heisman possibility. "Without my team, I wouldn't be a Heisman candidate. If we weren't 12¿0, I wouldn't be a Heisman candidate. So without my team and their help, I wouldn't be going to New York.

"But definitely if I were to win, and representing my school and my team and my family and defensive players in general, it would definitely be a great step for all of us. If it doesn't happen, then whoever does win it is truly deserving of the award."

Manziel would be the main competition, the redshirt freshman who morphed into the football phenomenon known as Johnny Football, amassing an SEC-record 4,600 total yards of offense and adding 43 total touchdowns to the mix.

His signature moment was helping to author an upset of then-No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 10, and Texas A&M lifted its ban on freshmen speaking to the media just last week in order to boost Manziel's profile even more.

Klein, meanwhile, was the Heisman frontrunner for the bulk of the season until a three-interception night on Nov. 17. Kansas State lost to Baylor that evening and lost its place in the national title race, but nonetheless earned a Big 12 title and a bid to the Fiesta Bowl to play Oregon.

Klein threw for 2,490 yards, rushed for another 890 yards rushing and had 37 total TDs. His yards per play were also very similar to Manziel, who simply had more snaps in a fast-paced attack: Manziel averaged 7.88 yards per play to Klein's 7.25.

bchamilton@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribHamilton