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December 8, 2012

Te'o grateful for faith, teammates

MORE: Irish take methodical approach in California

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
With six postseason trophies in a single year to his name, Notre Dame inside linebacker Manti Te'o is the most decorated individual in college football history.

Te'o has accepted the Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive player; the Butkus Award, which is awarded to the top linebacker; the Lombardi Award, presented to the nation's top lineman or linebacker in conjunction with personal service and leadership; the Maxwell Award, given to the most outstanding player; the Nagurski Award for the top defensive player; and The Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. His total surpasses the five awards won by Charles Woodson in 1997.

If Te'o wins the Heisman Memorial Trophy presented by The Heisman Trust on Saturday night, he will join Woodson as the only defensive players to win the most prestigious of individual awards. He is one of three finalists, joined by Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

As humble as he is talented, Te'o admitted that he did not envision his career playing out like this when he arrived in South Bend.

"I never thought all of this would happen," Te'o said. "I didn't think it would be like this at all, but I am not sure anyone really does."

With a victory in the BCS National Championship game over Alabama, Te'o will have led the Fighting Irish to their first undefeated season since 1988, furthering his place in Notre Dame lore.

He has totaled 103 tackles, seven interceptions, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery on the season.

The on-field highlights have not been mirrored in his personal life.

On Sept. 11, Te'o had to deal with the death of his grandmother. The next day, his girlfriend lost her battle with leukemia.

"This year has been an incredible ride for me," he said. "This is a dream come true to be in this position, but it has not been all sunshine and roses."

Te'o said his faith and his Notre Dame family helped him through the personal tragedy.

"It is a testimony to the power of prayer," he said. "The only person who saw this coming was the Lord above, and he put me at Notre Dame for a reason and surrounded me with the support I needed.

"As hard as everything was, I was able to fall back on my faith."

It was December 2011 when Te'o chose to come back to Notre Dame, forgoing a chance to be selected in the NFL draft.

On stage, accepting the Maxwell Award, Te'o told a nationwide television audience that his choice to return to school was the right one.

"I thought of all the positives of (coming back)," he said, "and just benefiting me through football, just getting better, another year to improve. 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 who all cared for me. They sacrificed everything they had to make sure I was OK. The coaches and the community, to see them rally around one player, that's the definition of Notre Dame."

The definition of the Heisman Trophy is that it is awarded to the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said Te'o fits the bill and is deserving of all of the accolades he has received.

"Manti is a special player and a special person," he said. "I think that he is reaping what he has sewn."

If he is selected to win his seventh personal trophy, it would cap a season of triumph and tragedy.

"I have been through a lot this year," Te'o said. "There has been good and bad. I am just trying to take it all in, one thing at a time."



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