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Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o up against two QBs for Heisman

Wake Forest v Notre Dame

Wake Forest v Notre Dame

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Updated: January 5, 2013 6:22AM



The idea of a linebacker winning the Heisman Trophy was so far-fetched, so unfathomable, that it didn’t even seem feasible in a video game. So Manti Te’o — an inside linebacker since his Pop Warner days — used to make himself a running back just so he’d have a shot at a fictional Heisman.

Well, Te’o moved one step closer to the real thing Monday when he was named one of just three finalists for college football’s most coveted individual honor. Te’o — who is on a six-city awards tour this week, beginning Monday, when he was named the winner of both the Butkus Award (top linebacker) and Nagurski Award (top defensive player) — will be in New York for Saturday’s ceremony in Times Square.

He will be joined on stage by Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein.

No strictly defensive player ever has won the Heisman. (Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson won in 1997, but he returned punts and played wide receiver as well.) In order to become the first, Te’o will have to overcome the front-runner, Manziel, the redshirt freshman phenom better known as Johnny Football.

Manziel, who’s also trying to make history as the first freshman to win the Heisman, rocketed into the national conversation when the Aggies upset then-No. 1 Alabama three weeks ago, but he put up gaudy numbers all year long. The dual-threat QB has thrown for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns (against eight interceptions) and has run for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns. He broke Cam Newton’s Southeastern Conference record for total yards in a season.

Te’o is tied for second in the nation in interceptions with seven — the only linebacker with more than four — and is the undisputed leader of the nation’s top scoring defense. He led two memorable goal-line stands that helped the Irish stave off Stanford and USC.

Manziel is the favorite, but it’s not as clear-cut a race as it has been in recent years. Irish coach Brian Kelly has been stumping hard for Te’o, pointing out that the best and most important player on the No.  1 team in the country deserves it most.

‘‘If a guy like Manti Te’o is not going to win the Heisman, they should just make it an offensive award and just give it to the offensive player every year and just cut to the chase,’’ Kelly said after Notre Dame’s victory over USC in the season finale, which put the Irish in the BCS championship game against Alabama. ‘‘He is the backbone of a 12-0 football team that has proven itself each and every week. . . . If the Heisman Trophy is what it is, I don’t know how Manti Te’o is left out of that conversation.’’



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