Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te’o is officially the most decorated college football player in one season in the history of the game. His whirlwind awards tour took him to Orlando, Fla., Thursday night for the Home Depot College Football Awards, and he added two more carry-on items for his flight to New York, where he’ll travel to next for Saturday’s Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Manti Te'o continued his trophy tour Thursday, winning the Maxwell and Bednarik Awards in Orlando, Fla.
Already the recipient of national awards such as the Dick Butkus (nation’s top linebacker), Bronko Nagurski (top defender), Walter Camp (player of the year) and Lombardi (lineman or linebacker) trophies, Te’o was named the Chuck Bednarik (top defender) and Maxwell (top player) Thursday.
Before the ceremony began, he was named to the Capital One Academic All-America squad along with right guard Mike Golic Jr. Te’o broke a streak of nine straight quarterbacks to be awarded the Maxwell Trophy and is the first defensive player to win the award since 1980. Former Michigan star Charles Woodson won five national awards in 1997, which included the Heisman.
The other two Maxwell finalists were Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The winner of the Maxwell Award has gone on to win the Heisman 33 times.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Te’o said on the ESPN broadcast. “The last time I ever dreamt of winning that award was on a video game. It’s mind blowing to me. In December when I decided to come back for my senior year, I thought of all the possibilities of it and [the benefits] through football … just getting better and another year for me to improve. But I never thought me coming back for my senior year would be the best situation for me with the tragedy hitting.
“The only man who knew that was the man upstairs. It’s a testimony to the power of prayer and that the Lord answers your prayers. He definitely answered my prayers. I’m blessed to be with 80-plus brothers that truly cared for me. They sacrificed everything they had to make sure I was okay. The coaches and the Notre Dame community, to see them rally around one player, that’s the definition of Notre Dame.”
His seven interceptions are the most ever by a Notre Dame linebacker and the most by any linebacker since Georgia's Tony Taylor collected that many in 2006. The seven picks were also the second-most in the country this season. Te’o enters next months BCS National Championship against No. 2 Alabama with 103 tackles. No. 1 Notre Dame allowed just 10.33 points a game.
Te’o beat out South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney (defensive end) and Georgia’s Jarvis Jones (linebacker) for the Bednarik Award.
"When you make it to the national championship, there's not a lot of tweaks you have to make," Te'o told ESPN about the matchup with the Crimson Tide. "Nobody's perfect, but the whole thing is being yourself. I think when you step out of that zone or step out of the mold you created throughout the whole season, I think that's when you start getting in trouble. For us, our biggest thing is perfecting the things we're already good at. I think our coaches will do a tremendous job preparing us that way."