The first stop of the Manti Te’o postseason hardware tour came Thursday afternoon on Notre Dame’s campus. The Irish captain accepted the ARA Sportsmanship Award to kick off a whirlwind 11 days that could end with Te’o as the most decorated Notre Dame player in program history.
Irish senior Manti Te'o poses with the ARA Sportsmanship Trophy.
The All-American linebacker is already a finalist for a half dozen awards including the Heisman Trophy next Saturday night. Thursday’s award, chaired by former BYU head coach LaVell Edwards, is in its eighth year of honoring football players who show good sportsmanship on and off the field.
“Pre-eminent sports brands are rare, even rarer is an athlete that perfectly captures the essence of a sports program,” said Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick, who was on hand to introduce Te’o. Swarbrick went on to compare Te’o to pro icons like Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning and Bill Bradley in describing the way he fit into the fabric of Notre Dame.
“We’ve been incredibly privileged at the University of Notre Dame during the past four years culminating in this year to have a student athlete who so perfectly captures the values of the institution.”
The football-focused awards begin Monday night when Te’o travels to Charlotte for the Bronko Nargurski Award for best defensive player in the country. Then it’s on to New York twice, Houston, Orlando and Newport Beach, Calif., in the six days that follow. By the time Notre Dame plays for the crystal ball on Jan. 7, Te’o could have as many as nine new additions to his trophy case. (See below for complete list and schedule.)
Te’o will return to South Bend on Dec. 10 in time to take his last set of final exams before graduating at the end of the semester. He said he would be studying while jet setting across the country and doing his best to begin preparation for the national championship game.
“I asked [head coach Brian] Kelly to make sure there is a gym in whatever place we stay so when I come back I’m not a D lineman,” he said.
The biggest prize awaits a week from Saturday night on Te’o’s second trip to New York City in a week. According to online sports oddsmakers Bovada, the odds of Te’o becoming the first defense-only Heisman winner next weekend are currently 7/2. He trails only Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who is a heavy favorite at 1/6 to win the bronze statue.
Te’o said he had a chance to watch some of Manziel’s games this season and he came away impressed.
“My attention has just been on taking advantage of everyday,” he said. “All I’ve been thinking about is the time I have left here at school with my peers and classmates. I’ll be gone all next week so today was my last week of school. It’s just hard for me to know that it has come to an end, a beautiful end.”
Te'o's Award Schedule
Monday, Dec. 3. — Charlotte, N.C. (Nagurski Award)
Tuesday, Dec. 4. — New York, N.Y. (Campbell Award)
Wednesday, Dec. 5 — Houston, Texas (Lombardi Award)
Thursday, Dec. 6 — Orlando, Fla. (Maxwell/Bednarik/Butkus Awards)
Friday, Dec. 7-8 — New York, N.Y. (Heisman Award)
Sunday, Dec. 9 — Newport Beach, Calif. (Lott IMPACT Award)