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December 3, 2012

Te'o takes Butkus, Nagurski

Manti Te'o brushed by reporters gathered on the top floor of the Guglielmino Athletics Complex on Sunday night. Not asked to speak to the media after Notre Dame's date with Alabama became official, the All-American linebacker took advantage of a rare opportunity without saying a word.

Less than 24 hours later Te'o was in Charlotte, N.C., for the Nagurski Award (best defensive player) ceremony, where he became the first Notre Dame play to win the award. Earlier in the day Te'o also won the Butkus Award, given annually since 1985 to college football's top linebacker. Te'o is Notre Dame's first Butkus winner. Five-star Irish commitment Jaylon Smith won the Butkus Award among high school prospects.

On top of all that, Te'o was also named a Heisman Trophy finalist on Monday, along with Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Kansas State's Collin Klein.

That means travel plans for Te'o will take him to Houston, Orlando, New York twice and Southern California in the coming week. He'll miss Notre Dame's first two bowl practices and the team's awards ceremony on Friday night.

"He's burnt out," said Brian Kelly. "There's no question, he's on fumes right now.

"He also respects where he is in this process, to be mentioned for the kinds of awards that he's in, he'll find the energy to be engaged. But he's a football player. He wanted to be with his teammates on Friday and Saturday when they practice. He's not going to be able to be there. That's hard for a guy that's wired that way."

Te'o joked last week while accepting the ARA Sportsmanship Award that his only request for Notre Dame's travel agents this week were hotels with gyms. Coincidentally, Te'o accepted the ARA award after coming from the weight room. On the morning of Notre Dame's national championship bid he was working out too.

Kelly will accompany Te'o on the awards circuit, including ESPN's College Football Awards show on Thursday night in Orlando. Te'o is a finalist for the Maxwell Award (top overall player) against Manziel and Klein. He's also up for the Bednarik Award (top defensive player) against Jadeveon Clowney and Jarvis Jones. Both were also finalists for the Nagurski.

Kelly will return to Notre Dame on Friday while Te'o heads to New York City for the Heisman Trophy weekend. After working Notre Dame's practices on Friday and Saturday, along with attending the team's awards show and doing some recruiting, Kelly plans to fly to New York for the Heisman ceremony.

Notre Dame's head coach didn't set football expectations high for Te'o as he trades shoulder pads for tuxedos this week. Kelly didn't go as far to call the awards season a necessary evil, but he did characterize it as necessary following the senior season of Te'o that could end with a Heisman Trophy.

"Listen, this week, you gotta write it off. It's not gonna be a good week for you," Kelly said he told Te'o. "When you have an undefeated football and you have a great player, awards, generally follow you. This week he's gonna do the best he can to work out at the hotels and focus on these postseason awards."


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