Wednesday, November 25, 2015         


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All fired up

Te’o’s second-place finish for the Heisman Trophy gave him even more motivation to improve

By Ferd Lewis


“The burn,” as Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o termed it, was only seconds in coming after the disappointment of the Heisman Trophy announcement last month.

As Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel’s name — and not Te’o’s — was called at the presentation of the 78th Heisman Trophy in New York, “I just felt that burn,” Te’o said. “I can’t really describe it. I just felt that burn. Hey, gotta get better.”

Those competitive fires were one of the best things the Laie native had going for him in a 2012 season in which he helped propel lightly regarded Notre Dame to a 12-0 regular-season finish, making the Fighting Irish relevant again on the national stage.

"I always wanted to be the best. I just use it as motivation to be the best that I can be. Obviously, I have a lot of work to do."

—Manti Te'o, Notre Dame senior

Now, as the Fighting Irish prepare to play Alabama in Monday’s Bowl Championship Series national title game in Miami, Te’o has somewhere to direct that “burn” of completiveness.

Never mind that Te’o’s total 1,706 points, including 321 first-place ballots, were the most by someone who was exclusively a defensive performer in the history of the Heisman. Or that he won seven of the eight major college football awards he was eligible for, the most by one individual in college football history.

The biggest one, the Heisman, had escaped him. And that meant one thing: “It’s motivation,” Te’o said pointedly after the Heisman runner-up finish, verbally circling the national championship game on his calendar.

In a year in which he had 103 tackles and seven interceptions, not much had managed to elude Te’o. But the bronze statue did.

Te’o understood he was fighting an uphill battle, that no purely defensive player had ever won the Heisman and few even get close. And he said all the polite, “right” things about Manziel. In fact, he invited Manziel to visit him on the North Shore, a sign of the seemingly genuine friendship they struck up.

But for all that, there was still the drive to capture what was in front of him, something that has driven Te’o since youth football days.    

“I always wanted to be the best,” Te’o said. “I just use it as motivation to be the best that I can be. Obviously, I have a lot of work to do.”

From his time in New York, where he sought out places to work out more than he did sightseeing opportunities, Te’o has been focused on the BCS title game, where, instead of the bronze statue, he has a chance to hoist the crystal ball symbolic of the BCS national championship.

He has judiciously watched his weight on the postseason banquet circuit, lest “I come back a D-lineman,” Te’o only partially joked. 

The Fighting Irish are 10-point underdogs to Alabama on the Las Vegas betting line. But, then, that’s nothing new this season. Notre Dame wasn’t even in the Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll and was an early underdog to Michigan State and Oklahoma.

“I wish I could have come in first (for the Heisman), obviously,” Te’o said. “But it gives me motivation and gives me thirst to come back and get better. Obviously, what I did wasn’t good enough. And I felt I could do better, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

Call it a “burning” resolve.

Reach Ferd Lewis at or 529-4820.

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