No offense Manti Te’o, but … the Heisman Trophy remains an award for the offense.
Manti Te'o compiled the most Heisman points ever by exclusively a defensive player but finished as the runner-up to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
The Notre Dame senior linebacker finished with 321 first-place votes and 1,706 total points, eclipsing the 861 by Pitt defensive end Hugh Green, who finished No. 2 in the 1980 Heisman Trophy balloting while playing exclusively on defense. However, it was not enough for Te’o to eclipse Texas A&M red-shirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, who racked up 474 first-place ballots and 2,029 total points.
Manziel captured five of the six regions, with Te’o carrying the Midwest. Kansas State senior quarterback Collin Klein was a distant third with 60 first-place votes and 894 total points. As a competitor, Te'o admitted there was an initial disappointment, but looking forward to seeing his teammates again while preparing for a national title against Alabama on Jan. 7 should provide plenty of salve.
“I came a long way," Te'o said. "That’s something to look at. That’s the most votes a defensive player has ever gotten, I guess. But congratulations to Johnny. He deserves it. He had a wonderful season. I’m just relieved and now it’s time to get ready for ‘Bama.
“First, obviously it was like, ‘Man I wish it was my name.’ [Manziel] deserved it. For me to just be there was an experience. I just felt that burn … I’ve always wanted to be the best. I just use that as motivation just to be the best I can be. Obviously I have a lot of work to do. I’m just excited to get back.
“I’m relieved that it’s over. I’m excited that I get the chance to prepare for ‘Bama ... Heisman Trophy or national championship, I’ll take a national championship 100 times out of 100. I want to get back with my brothers ... I miss them, and so it’s time for me to go back home and be with my guys.”
Te’o became the fourth Heisman runner-up in Notre Dame history, joining sophomore quarterback Angelo Bertelli (1941) — who would win the award two years later — senior quarterback Joe Theismann (1970) and junior flanker/running back/return man Raghib “Rocket” Ismail (1990).
The most decorated defensive player ever in college football, Te’o received six national awards, including Player of the Year honors with the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Award. Defensively, the hardware included the Butkus Award, Chuck Bednarik Award, Bronko Nagurski Award and Lombardi Award. Tomorrow he will be in Newport Beach, Calif., as a finalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy.
Although previous Notre Dame Heisman winners such as quarterbacks Bertelli (1943), John Lujack (1947) and Paul Hornung (1956) also started on defense in the days of one-platoon football — as did end Leon Hart (1949) and running back John Lattner (1953) — Te’o became only the fifth Notre Dame player since the award’s inception in 1935 to place in the balloting exclusively as a defensive player.
The highest Heisman finish ever by a Notre Dame defensive player until this year was fifth by end Ross Browner for the 1977 national champs. The other four Fighting Irish defenders to place were tackle Mike McCoy in 1969 (6th), end Walt Patulski in 1971 (9th) and tackle Steve Niehaus in 1975 (12th).
Patulski became the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, while McCoy and Niehaus were No. 2 selections and Browner No. 8. Te’o also is projected as a top-10 choice next April.
Since the advent of two-platoon football around 1964, Te’o became only the 12th “defense only” player to place in the top 5. Michigan defensive back Charles Woodson won the honor in 1997, but he also scored touchdowns that season as a punt returner, a part-time receiver and on a reverse as a runner, eliminating him from the “defense only” classification.
Te’o did have the highest finish ever in the Heisman balloting by a linebacker. In 1964, Illinois' Dick Butkus was third — the winner was Notre Dame QB Huarte — and he also played center on offense.
For players who lined up only at linebacker, the previous standard was fourth by two individuals: Oklahoma’s Brian Bosworth in 1986 and Florida State’s Marvin Jones in 1992. Ohio State’s Chris Spielman finished sixth in 1987, the year Tim Brown became the most recent Notre Dame recipient.
Naturally, via social media, the Fighting Irish players lit up their displeasure with the final vote.
“That’s family, man," Te'o laughed. "That’s what families are all about, that’s what our team is all about. I’m just so grateful for all my teammates. I don’t call them my teammates. I call them my brothers. I’m just thankful for all of them and all the love and support that they’ve given me. They all just blew up my phone. I haven’t had a chance to check all of them."
On Wednesday, Te'o will take his last final exam at Notre Dame and turn in two projects before receiving his undergraduate degree in design. From there, he will be working on his "masters" on Alabama, and he is excited about having three weeks to watch tape of an opponent as opposed to having just three days to prepare.
"I’ll get well acquainted with Alabama," he said.
As for defensive players having the deck stacked against them to win the Heisman ...
“I’m not responsible for that," Te'o said. "I have no say in that. I did the best I could do and I’m happy with that … I wish I could have came first, obviously, but It gives me motivation and it gives me fire to come back and get better. Obviously what I did wasn’t good enough, so I have to be better. That’s exactly what’s going to happen.”