By David Scott, The Charlotte Observer –
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was happy and honored to win the Bronko Nagurski Award on Monday night.
He’s the nation’s top defensive college football player, at least in the eyes of the Football Writers Association of America, which voted on the award presented by the Charlotte Touchdown Club.
But Te’o is looking at something larger – a victory for his top-ranked Irish when they play Alabama in the BCS national championship game Jan. 7 in Miami.
“All these awards are great, but football is a team sport,” said Te’o, the top player on a Notre Dame defense that ranks first nationally in scoring defense (10.3 points per game). “If you ask who won the Butkus or the Bednarik (awards) – or even the Heisman winner some years – they probably don’t remember. But they remember who won the national championship. They remember that. That’s the trophy everybody wants.”
Te’o (6-foot-2, 265 pounds) has 103 tackles and seven interceptions this season as Notre Dame has gone unbeaten in 12 games. Also announced as a Heisman Trophy finalist Monday, he was one of five finalists for the Nagurski award, beating out South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Alabama defensive back Dee Milliner, Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones and Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner.
“There are so many words to describe Manti,” said Irish coach Brian Kelly, the keynote speaker at Monday’s banquet. “It’s what he’s done to help our program grow quickly. It takes time to move from not being part of the national championship discussion for over 20 years to be right at the point of being able to be a national champion. You need somebody that can galvanize the team and somebody to get them to believe that they can do it.
“His actions, the way he played and the way he led did incredible things for our football program.”