On his way to the stage to accept the Maxwell Award as college football’s most outstanding player, Manti Te’o shook hands with Ara Parseghian and Brian Kelly.
The former Notre Dame head coach had already been honored with the NCFAA Contribution to College Football Award. The current Notre Dame head coach may be on his way to similar standing within Irish lore. And if Kelly gets there, he can thank Te’o for helping pave the path.
On Thursday night Te’o won the Maxwell Award, Bednarik Award (top defensive player) and Walter Camp Player of the Year honors. Combined with the Butkus, Nagurski and Lombardi awards earlier in the week, the All-American is not only the most decorated player of this season, but of any season.
Te’o broke Charles Woodson’s mark (five) for the most single-season national awards won.
Te’o will be up for the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night against Collin Klein and Johnny Manziel, trying to become the first defensive player to win it since Woodson. Manziel and Klein will join Te’o in New York. Te’o is also a finalist for the Lott Impact Award, handed out in Newport Beach, Calif., on Monday.
The overflowing postseason adulation gave Te’o a moment to reflect while accepting the Maxwell Award, looking back on the decision to return to Notre Dame for his senior year. Te’o made that call almost exactly one year ago, unaware he’d lose his grandmother and girlfriend in the coming season.
“In December when I decided to come back for my senior year, I thought of all the positives of it and just benefiting me through football, just getting better, another year to improve,” Te’o told host Chris Fowler. “I never thought that 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 testimony to the power of prayer and the Lord answers your prayers.
“He definitely answered my prayers and blessed me with 80-plus brothers that all cared for me. They sacrificed everything they had to make sure I was okay. The coaches and the community, to see them rally around one player, that’s the definition of Notre Dame.”
Te’o is the sixth Notre Dame player to win the Maxwell and the first defensive player since 1980 when Hugh Green of Pittsburgh won the award. Te’o snaps a streak of nine straight quarterbacks to have won. He’s the first player to win the Maxwell and the Bednarik.
On Saturday night Te’o will not only attempt to win a historic Heisman Trophy and deliver an eighth to Notre Dame, he’ll attempt to pull off a rare Heisman-Maxwell double. In the last 12 years, the two national player of the year awards have agreed just twice (Tim Tebow in ’07 and Cam Newton in ’10).
The awards ceremony also saw Brian Kelly honored as Home Depot National Coach of the Year for a second time in four seasons and tight end Tyler Eifert receive the first John Mackey Award in school history.
Te’o was also named a first-team Walter Camp All-American. Eifert, offensive tackle Zack Martin and defensive end Stephon Tuitt all made the second-team.