NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Manti Te’o does not know exactly where he is going this week as he sets out on his coast to coast college football banquet tour. The All-American, who won’t know until early Monday evening if he is a Heisman Trophy finalist, is already a finalist for six major awards that will be presented in five cities throughout the week.
Te’o and Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly will make all the stops this week and, while he didn’t know the exact itinerary when recently asked, the linebacker had just one request for his coach when the trip was planned.
“I asked coach Kelly to make sure that there’s a gym in whatever place we stay so when I come back I’m not a D-lineman,” Te’o said after finishing his last classes at Notre Dame last week. “That’s definitely something that I will do myself to make sure that I stay in shape.”
Te’o might not know which direction he is heading this week, but here are his planned stops per Notre Dame’s Sports Information Department:
Monday: In Charlotte, NC for the Bronko Nagurski Award (best defensive player as named by the Football Writers Association of America).
Tuesday: In New York for the William V. Campbell Trophy (senior who exhibits success in football, academics and community service).
Wednesday: In Houston, TX for the Rotary Lombardi Award (best college football lineman).
Thursday: In Orlando, FL for the ESPN College Football Awards Show, where Te’o is up for both the Maxwell Football Club Player of the Year Award and the Chuck Bednarik Award (best defensive player).
Friday: Te’o will return to New York (assuming he becomes a Heisman finalist) for Saturday night’s award presentation.
Saturday: After the Heisman ceremony Te’o and Kelly will fly to California.
Sunday: The banquet tour comes to an end at the Lott IMPACT Trophy (acronym for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community, and Tenacity) in Newport Beach, CA. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be the event’s keynote speaker.
The whirlwind tour is a big stretch for a deserving player who arrived on the Notre Dame campus as a shy player from Hawai’i to begin his college career in the fall of 2009. Accolade after accolade has deservedly come his way after his decision to return for his senior year with the Irish rather than head off for the NFL.
The other thing that has come his way is a huge spotlight. Te’o graced the cover of Sports Illustrated earlier this season as he became the poster child for his team and his defense’s rise to prominence. He is the only Irish player who has had to have his own press conference during the season due to the large amount of media requests for his time.
He has managed to deal with it all in the same way he has handled opposing running backs this season.
“It gets overwhelming at times,” Te’o admitted of the media demands.”But yeah, I understand it comes with the territory and I just try to represent this school and represent my family the best way I can every time I step in from of the camera. No matter how overwhelming it gets to know that what I say has and can have a direct impact on somebody’s life. I always try to be aware of that and try to put all the other distractions aside.”
Te’o’s extensive travel schedule means he will have to miss the first two of his team’s practices in preparation for the Jan. 7 BCS National Championship Game against Alabama. Notre Dame will practice this Friday and Saturday. Te’o will be back in time for finals, which run from Dec. 10-14.
The senior has already been honored with the ARA Sportsmanship Award, and the big honor is obviously the Heisman Trophy. He is also a Dick Butkus Award (best linebacker) finalist, but that award does not have an official ceremony. Its winners have been presented by Butkus in special "surprise" on-campus ceremonies. Te’o says he has never let the weight of any of those pending honors weigh him down.
“I think it’s easy for me,” Te’o said. “I spend most of my time relaxing, getting a lot of rest, just hanging out with my friends, (and) just enjoying those times. My mind is not on those awards. My mind is on just strengthening the relationships I have with my friends, with my coaches and with my family and just making sure that when I leave here I’ll have a lot of memories to look back on.”
The Heisman has been presumed by most to be a race between Te’o and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, but Kansas State’s Collin Klein had one last chance to get back in the conversation on Saturday night. Klein rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 184 yards and another score in helping the Wildcats to a 42-24 win over Texas to clinch the Big 12 title.
According to ESPN’s College Game Day, only about 10-percent of the Heisman ballots had been received prior to that game. The Heisman vote could be as close as it has ever been, and voters will ultimately have to decide just which player is more deserving of college football’s highest honor.
“I think for me I deserve the Heisman Trophy just because my team deserves the Heisman Trophy,” Te’o said on Friday’s Dan Patrick Radio Show. “Without my team I wouldn’t be a candidate for the Heisman Trophy and to represent them out there and to represent the success that our team has had so far…I truly believe the Heisman Trophy brings a lot of attention and honors just one player, but as we all know football is a team sport.”
Two of the last three Heismans have gone to “the best player on the best team” in the nation. Cam Newton and Mark Ingram took home Heismans while helping their teams to unbeaten seasons that ended with national championships. That is the exact feat Te’o could accomplish this season.
“It’s the best and greatest team sport out there and I wouldn’t be out there if it wasn’t for my team,” Te’o continued in his radio interview. “So, if I have the opportunity to represent my team with the Heisman Trophy that would be one of the best accomplishments and greatest accomplishments I could have, because it’s an honor of my team and my family and the things we’ve accomplished.”
Te’o is trying to become just the second defensive player to ever win a piece of the Heisman. If he actually does hoist the trophy, he jokingly told Patrick he would share pieces of it with his defensive teammates.
“If that happened I think that would be right,” Te’o said. “Because they deserve just as much of the trophy as I do.”