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Te‘o, Jones praised for more than just football

January 4, 2013
By JOHN ZENOR , The Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Alabama center Barrett Jones was hobbling toward an airplane, awkwardly clutching crutches and a bag when a helping hand reached out.

"Here, let me get this for you," said Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o.

Just a show of good manners from one of college football's best to another as they started the awards circuit. They'll meet again on Monday, in the Bowl Championship Series title game.

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Jones and Te'o are the most acclaimed players on teams with national honors galore, but also stand for something more.

Both could be drawing sizable NFL paychecks right now, but opted to stick around for their senior seasons and wrap up degrees.

Te'o, a Punahou School graduate, gave a telling answer Thursday regarding why he remained in college. Representing Notre Dame, the state of Hawaii and his teammates, he said, is "one of the biggest pleasures and honors that I get."

"And to just be an example to (people from Hawaii) of somebody who made that leap of faith to leave the rock just for a few years and to find comfort in knowing that Hawaii will always be there," said Te'o, the Heisman Trophy runner-up. "You can do a good amount of service to the state by sacrificing a few years away from home to help live your dream, and by you helping to live your dream, you help other people's dreams seem that much more real."

Te'o is also an Eagle Scout, and has even been known to write poetry, reciting a sizable poem during a talk last summer at Honolulu's Downtown Athletic Club.

"It was really well done," said Bobby Curran, a Honolulu radio show host who was emcee for the event. "When do you see vicious linebacker types reading poetry? The kid is so self-assured. He didn't have any hesitation. There was no awkwardness or embarrassment or any of that."

Jones grew up learning the violin and memorizing dozens of Bible verses, and was a pretty darn good Scrabble player. He spends his spring breaks on mission trips overseas to places such as Haiti and Nicaragua.

Tide coach Nick Saban has called the lineman "as fine a person as you're ever going to be around - me or you or anyone else - in terms of his willingness to serve other people."

Like Te'o, Jones says and does the right things - without profanity.

"He's never cursed," insists Alabama tailback Eddie Lacy. "Ever."

Jones won the Outland Trophy as a left tackle last season, and in 2012 received the Rimington Award as the nation's top center, and the Campbell Trophy, the Heisman's academic equivalent - he's finished graduate school in accounting.

"I just feel like I've been gifted with a mind that enjoys school and enjoys learning," Jones said. "I wanted to leave with a master's degree. That was my goal the whole time."

Te'o is an Academic All-American with a 3.324 grade-point average in design. This season, he became the first player to sweep the Maxwell, Walter Camp, Butkus, Nagur-ski, Lombardi, Bednarik and Lott awards.

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said Te'o has responded to all that hardware by practicing harder than he had all season.

"For as talented a player he is, he's a better person," Diaco said, adding that his star defender is "happy, full of life."

"On a day where maybe as a coach you might be feeling a little down or maybe slightly distracted with the world's problems, Manti is easy to see, look at and see his face and immediately be energized," Diaco said.

Te'o showed his character earlier this season, when his girlfriend and grandmother died within a few hours of each other. He had huge games against Michigan State and, the next week, against Michigan on the day his girlfriend was buried.

"Courageous, is one of the best words I can come up with to describe him," said Mickey Standiford, a member of the Mormon church in South Bend attended by Te'o, who is close with Standiford's family.

"To face those adversities and be able to still focus and have that determination, I think, to want to succeed for them.

He wanted those games to be tributes to them. He didn't want it to be about him and the fact that he was out there doing it.

It was more that he wanted to bring light to them. Courageous, determined, focused and just family is the most important thing to him."



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