“The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.”- The Heisman Trust.
Throughout the 77 years of this prestigious award, there has never been a pure defensive player to win the award. But if there has ever been a defensive player that really deserves the win the award, it is Notre Dame’s captain and linebacker, Manti Te’o.
If you want to base the award solely on stats, then yes Texas A&M freshman quarterback, Johnny Manziel(43 TD’s) or Kansas State senior quarterback, Collin Klein(37 TD’s) stand out more than Te’o. Manziel grabbed the attention of college football fans around the nation when he lead his team to an upset win in Tuscaloosa against Alabama. But besides that game, Manziel was not that impressive against other final top 25 teams. The freshman threw three interceptions without scoring a single touchdown against LSU. The Aggies also lost to the Florida Gators in which Manziel only accounted for one touchdown.
And then there is Manti. Although defensive stats don’t stand out as much as offensive stats, the Irish captain finished the season with 103 tackles and seven big interceptions. In Notre Dame’s toughest game this year in Oklahoma where they were double digit underdogs, Te’o registered 11 tackles, a sack, and the interception that sealed the victory. But the Heisman award is not simply about who has the best stats.
After being told that he would be a top pick in the first round of the NFL draft last year, Te’o decided to return to South Bend for his final season. Some experts questioned his decision since the Irish weren’t even ranked in the Associated Press preseason top 25 poll. But Manti knew he had unfinished business left at the University of Notre Dame. After leading his team to wins over Navy and Purdue to start the season,a few days later Te’o lost his grandmother and girlfriend just hours apart. Despite the pain of dealing with his losses, Manti did not miss a single practice. That following Saturday, he was on the field leading the defense and team to an upset win at Michigan State. The following week against rival Michigan, Manti picked off Denard Robinson two times, the same day of his girlfriend’s funeral. Although the tragedy can’t win Te’o the Heisman, it exemplifies his leadership and perseverance.
As the season continued, Te’o continued the be the heart and soul the nation’s top defense. With a goal line stand in overtime against Stanford and in the fourth quarter at USC, the defense led Notre Dame to a perfect 12-0 record and a birth to their first national championship since 1988. Any other year Manziel would be a clear choose for the Heisman. But Manti deserves it most. His will, determination, and leadership is unmatched in college football. His “pursuit of excellence” got his team to the national championship. He has already been recognized for his outstanding season with the Butkus award for best linebacker in college football and Nagurski award for the best defensive player in college football. Along with his success on the field, Manti excelled in the classroom and in the community.
It shouldn’t matter that Manti plays defense, if he doesn’t win the award, then change it to an offensive award. Lets face it, no one else better embodies the values of the Heisman trophy than Manti Te’o.