The Football Writers Association of America voted Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o its 2012 Bronko Nagurski Award winner, an honor reserved for the nation’s best defensive player. Te’o claims the Nagurski Award on the same day he was named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
“It’s definitely a great accomplishment for me. I’ve ways wanted to be the best,” Te’o said per a press release from the Charlotte Touchdown Club-sponsored presentation. “For this to happen helps me to know I’m heading in the right direction. The formula is the same: Hard work leads to success as long as I keep doing it.”
Te’o led the nation’s top defense in tackles with 103, and his seven interceptions are second most of any defender in college football behind only Fresno State safety Philip Thomas’ eight. Te’o has captained the Fighting Irish to a 10.3 point, 288.6 yard per game yield. Defense has carried Notre Dame to the brink of its first national championship since 1988.
“The one thing that stands out to me is with all the things that have gone on off the field and all of the hype and all of the All-American and Heisman talk, he gets better each week. It’s amazing to me. … He just goes to class, handles all this (interviews), and then plays really well on Saturdays,” said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly.
Te’o keyed the Fighting Irish in several big wins. His fourth quarter interception of Oklahoma’s Landry Jones was a decided turning point in Notre Dame’s 30-13 victory. That game was huge for establishing the team’s BCS championship resume.
But no performance of Te’o's is more indicative of his standout season than in the Irish’s defeat of Michigan State. Playing after the loss of his grandmother and girlfriend just days before, Te’o made 12 tackles and recovered a fumble.
The next week against rival Michigan, Te’o intercepted two passes.
Te’o's impact on Notre Dame’s run to the championship transcends the stat sheet, which Kelly addressed when speaking on the senior’s leadership.
“He didn’t really feel it was his place to tell others how to do things. … He needed to hold other players to the higher level that he has for himself,” Kelly said. “Once he started to take to that kind of philosophy, you could see everyone else around him raise their level of play.”