SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o has a chance to add to his record collection of postseason honors tonight.
And it is the biggest college honor of them all – the Heisman Trophy.
Te’o, who has already won six national postseason awards, would be the first pure defensive player to win the Heisman, and the senior is competing with quarterbacks Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and Collin Klein of Kansas State for the award.
Not surprisingly, Te’o’s Notre Dame teammates believe he should return from his weeklong, five-city journey with the Heisman.
“I don’t know what more you can do as a defensive player to win than what he has done for this team,” tight end Tyler Eifert, who was named the Irish’s offensive player of the year at the team’s award show Friday, said. “I wish him the best. I really hope he wins it.”
Te’o led the Irish with 103 tackles and seven interceptions. He also had 5 1/2 tackles for loss, recovered two fumbles and had four quarterback hurries.
Those statistics helped No. 1 Notre Dame go 12-0 and land a spot in the BCS championship game against No. 2 Alabama (12-1) on Jan. 7 in Miami.
His season also has already netted him the Maxwell Award (player of the year), Bednarick Award (defensive player of the year), Walter Camp player of the year, Lombardi Award (top lineman or linebacker), Nagurski Award (defensive player of the year) and Butkus Award (linebacker of the year).
Those six awards surpassed former Michigan star Charles Woodson’s record of five national postseason honors.
“To be a player and to go through the stuff that he went through and to lead a team that is 12-0 to the national championship that hasn’t been here in years … it is absolutely breathtaking,” said defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who shared the Moose Krause defensive lineman of the year with nose guard Louis Nix III. “If he don’t win another award, that would be just really crazy.
“I believe he should win the award because he is a real leader on a team that is playing in the national championship right now. What higher honor is that? I’ll just say he should win the award.”
Nix said Te’o should win the Heisman based on more than statistics.
The junior said he did some research on the trophy and the mission statement that proclaims to honor the pursuit of excellence and integrity while combining ability with diligence, perseverance and hard work made him think of his teammate.
“It basically has Manti’s picture next to it,” Nix said of the mission statement. “People want to talk about stats. All of these other players up for the Heisman, they are great players, but Manti just on and off the field he is that guy. He has integrity. He’s athletic. He’s one of the best guys you will ever meet.
“I think Manti is the Heisman.”