SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o feels that if he wins the Heisman Trophy, it would be a victory for all defensive players.
"It would definitely be a great step for all of us," he said.
Te'o would become just the second defensive player to capture the award, joining Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson, who won in 1997 - though Woodson also played some at wide receiver and returned punts.
Manti Te’o could become the eighth Heisman Trophy winner from Notre Dame.
Te'o, a Punahou School graduate, is the face of a defense that for much of the season carried the top-ranked Fighting Irish (12-0) and has Notre Dame on the brink of its first national championship since 1988.
He also has been the team's inspirational leader. Te'o had one of his best games of the season against Michigan State, just days after his girlfriend and grandmother died hours apart, recording 12 tackles, one for a loss, and breaking up two passes. A week later, on the day his girlfriend was buried, he had eight tackles and a pair of interceptions against Michigan.
Te'o finished the regular season with 103 tackles and seven interceptions - a school record for a linebacker. He said becoming the eighth Notre Dame player to win the Heisman would be an honor for his teammates as well.
College Football on TV
2 p.m.-MAC championship: Kent St. vs. N. Illinois, ESPN2
3 p.m.-Pac-12 championship: UCLA at Stanford, FOX
7 a.m.-Oklahoma at TCU, ESPN
7 a.m.-Conference USA championship: C. Florida at Tulsa, ESPN2
7 a.m.-Oklahoma St. at Baylor, FX
9:30 a.m.-Kansas at West Virginia, FSW/FCSC
9:30 a.m.-Nicholls St. at Oregon St., PAC12
10:30 a.m.-Boise St. at Nevada, ABC
11 a.m.-SEC championship: Alabama vs. Georgia, CBS
2 p.m.-Pittsburgh at S. Florida, ESPN2
3 p.m.-Texas at Kansas St., ABC
3 p.m.-Big Ten championship: Nebraska vs. Wisconsin, FOX
3 p.m.-ACC championship: Florida St. vs. Georgia Tech, ESPN
6 p.m.-S. Alabama at Hawaii, PPV255
"Without my team, I wouldn't be a Heisman candidate. If we weren't 12-0, I wouldn't be a Heisman candidate," he said.
He said he hasn't spent much time thinking about the Heisman, though, saying his focus this week has been on resting and thinking about his remaining time at Notre Dame before he graduates next month.
"I'll be gone all next week so today was my last week of school. It was just hard for me to know it's come to an end, a beautiful end."
Te'o said this season is proof that God answers prayers.
"If he didn't answer prayers I wouldn't be here," he said. "I wouldn't have came here. I definitely wouldn't have come back for my senior year. I wouldn't have done a lot of things I've done in the past. Because I pray and because he does answer prayers is the reason I'm standing here today."
Te'o was speaking at a news conference Thursday where he was presented with the Awards and Recognition Association's Sportsmanship Award, and will be traveling the nation next week for various award shows. He is a finalist for the Maxwell (best all-around player), Bednarik (defensive player of the year), Butkus (top linebacker) and Lott (defensive player having the biggest impact) awards.
Te'o said he'll watch Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship game between No. 3 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama that will decide who will be Notre Dame's opponent in the Bowl Championship Series title game, but won't be rooting for either team.
"I'll enjoy it as a fan and as a future opponent," Te'o said. "Just watching them and how they work and tendencies. My main thing is finding out who we're going to play."