Manti Te'o embodies all things Heisman

December, 4, 2012
12/04/12
9:00
AM CT
Te'oMark L. Baer/US PresswireManti Te'o has been instrumental in Notre Dame's pursuit of a perfect season.
Take a bow, Notre Dame fans.

You flooded my mailbag, chat and Twitter feed. You demanded to know why I had Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel ahead of Manti Te'o on ESPN.com's Heisman Watch. (I don't have an official vote.)

Most of all, you kept presenting me the Heisman Trust Mission Statement, which reads:
The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work. The Heisman Trophy Trust ensures the continuation and integrity of this award. The Trust, furthermore, has a charitable mission to support amateur athletics and to provide greater opportunities to the youth of our country. Our goal through these charitable endeavors is for the Heisman Trophy to symbolize the fostering of a sense of community responsibility and service to our youth, especially those disadvantaged or afflicted. All assets of the Trust beyond the expense of maintaining the annual presentation of the Heisman Memorial Trophy are reserved for such charitable causes. The Trustees, who all serve pro bono, are guided by a devotion to college football and are committed to community service and the valued tradition which the Trophy represents.

I'm as guilty as any in overlooking the blueprint, but really, by that definition, is there any other choice this year?

Forget past winners who may have some questionable character flaws, to say the least. Forget the history of voter tendencies, which tend to ignore one side of the ball altogether.

And yes, forget Johnny Football's summer arrest for disorderly conduct and presenting false identification. I don't know the 19-year-old, and neither do you, so let's not make a villain out of a college sophomore just yet.

But by all means, remember all the good that Te'o has done this year alone.

He has handled himself admirably amidst the deaths of his grandmother and his girlfriend on a single day during his senior season. He is a Mormon who has twice inspired 80,000-plus fans at one of the nation's most prominent Catholic universities to wear leis in celebration of his Hawaiian roots. He has written a sick girl, as FoxSports.com chronicled in October, and last week he earned the national sportsmanship award from the Awards and Recognition Association.

And yes, he is very, very good at football.

His 103 tackles, seven interceptions and two fumble recoveries for the nation's No. 1 scoring defense tell part of the story, but only part. His "it" factor -- that vague, undefinable characteristic that sports fans and media types love to use when illustrating the importance of a Derek Jeter, a Bill Russell, a Tom Brady, etc. -- has been contagious throughout the Notre Dame football team and campus, lifting the Irish to a 12-0 record and a spot in the BCS national title game.

He has been the same man this season amidst tragedy and triumph that Notre Dame has been trotting out publicly in the past; more people just know about him now. Texas A&M, which had been steadfast in its policy of not letting true or redshirt freshmen speak to the media, caved when it suited their Heisman narrative, trotting out Manziel last week.

And make no mistake, Manziel has been phenomenal, setting the SEC single-season record for total offense, with 4,600 yards. But if we're going to overlook Kansas State's Collin Klein for one bad game, against Baylor, why do we give Manziel a pass for his combined one touchdown, three-turnover performances in winnable games against Florida and LSU?

Te'o's numbers may not jump off the page week to week, but he has risen to the occasion whenever it has mattered most.

At then-No. 10 Michigan State, three days after his double-dose of tragedy? Twelve tackles, one tackle for loss and one fumble recovery, helping bottle up Le'Veon Bell.

A week later against Michigan, the day of his girlfriend's funeral? Two picks, one tackle for loss and two more forced picks with pressures of Denard Robinson, who had tortured the Irish the previous two years.

At Oklahoma? Game-sealing interception. At USC? Another timely pick.

Over and over, Notre Dame fans (and even some non-Notre Dame fans), you have been pressing for me for answers, wondering how I could not have Te'o as my Heisman choice.

Over and over, I have struggled to come up with a good response.

Why not Te'o for Heisman?

Why not, indeed.

Matt Fortuna | email

College Football

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