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December 18, 2012

Te'o stands rested, ready

In the midst of it Manti Te'o could hardly have been more worn out.

When the awards circuit started it took the Notre Dame linebacker across all parts of the country. First came a trip to Charlotte, N.C., for the Nagurski Award presentation on Monday, Dec. 3. Tuesday sent him to New York City. By Wednesday in Houston, halfway through it, Te'o was about out of energy.

"I was exhausted," he said. "I think I was exhausted after the third day. I remember being in Houston and I was just exhausted. I was like, 'I wanna go home.' But I knew that this was the experience that I wanted. I was just glad my parents were there to experience it with me."

Te'o hit Orlando on Thursday for the Home Depot College Awards show. The next day it was back to New York City for two days of Heisman Trophy commitments, where he eventually finished second to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

All told Te'o would win seven individual postseason awards, making him the most decorated college player in history. He traveled thousands of miles in a week to accept those accolades.

Now back in South Bend to begin preparation for the national championship game against Alabama, Te'o could not be more thankful for all the awards but also the completion of a weeklong tour that proved demanding as any game plan.

"It was more than a whirlwind," he said. "It was a storm. It was crazy. I'm glad I'm over with it though."

Three weeks remain between Te'o and the hardware that he most cherishes.

Since returning to campus Te'o has caught up on sleep and finished up coursework. Soon enough his full focus will shift to slowing down the Alabama offense in hopes of capturing a national title before chasing NFL dreams, something he almost did after last season.

Around this time a year ago Te'o weighed foregoing his final year of college eligibility in favor heading to the league. Turns out he could hardly made a more prudent decision.

Notre Dame went undefeated before Te'o captured a slew of national awards. His final college game will come on the biggest stage the sport has to offer. Teammates, coaches and fans helped him through personal heartbreak earlier this season. NFL mock drafts consider him a cinch to be taken in the first round.

None of that would have been possible had Te'o left.

"I think of it all the time," Te'o said. "Just thinking about how different it would be, not only looking at it from a football point of view but life in general with the tragedies that hit. How different it would be surrounded by NFL guys compared to surrounded by my best friends, my brothers and coaches that really care about me as a person. I definitely have that about it and am grateful that I did."

Returning has made Te'o a college football superstar. While becoming the face of a program that will play for its first national title since 1988, he has tried to keep some normalcy, especially when on campus with other students.

Lately things have changed a little bit.

"I've always considered myself just another student here at Notre Dame," Te'o said. "I've always felt that this was my fortress here, that I could just be Manti here. For the most part it's been that way. But last week I went to the dining hall for the first time this semester and it felt like I was somewhere else because all my classmates were coming up asking for pictures.

"I was like, 'Guys, I'm one of you guys. I'm nothing. Can I just eat my food?' It's been great. It's a good problem to have."

Over the next couple weeks Te'o will start shutting all that out to hone in on the specifics of trying to beat Alabama.

Capping off his career with a national championship would cement Te'o in the rarified air reserved only for the best in Notre Dame and college football history, if that awards hasn't already done so.

"For everything to come together on my final year is truly something special for me," Te'o said. "Something that I'm just really grateful for. On my last year I get to play on this team, play for this school, represent this school and my family and play on the biggest stage in college sports. I'm just real excited."





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