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Notre Dame linebacker has backing of peers, coach for Heisman

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For more on college football, follow Tom Davis via Twitter at Tom101010.

Te'o has been spectacular on, off field

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 7:16 am

“Yeah.”

That is the amount of thought and explanation that Notre Dame safety Zeke Motta has to put into answering whether defensive mate Manti Te'o deserves to be considered for college football's ultimate prize, the Heisman Trophy.

Motta has as good of perspective as anyone in assessing the ability of the All-America linebacker and he couldn't be more impressed with the season that Te'o is having.

Notre Dame will host Pittsburgh (4-4) at 3:30 p.m. today (NBC).

“He's got five picks,” Motta continued succinctly. “What else do I need to say?”

Well, a little bit more would serve your teammate well, because a defensive player has as good of a chance of winning the honor as politician losing on a Democratic ticket in a New York election.

“Manti is a great leader,” Motta said. “The way that he holds himself and carries himself on and off of the field, there is so much that you can say about the way that he plays (and) the person he is. He's a great person that everybody on the team looks up to.”

Motta made his feelings clear on the topic, and his coach did as well after watching Te'o make a team-leading 11 tackles against eighth-ranked Oklahoma on Oct. 27.

“That's not for me to decide,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said when asked whether his linebacker deserved the award. “(But) I'll tell you what, he represents all of the things that the Heisman Trophy espouses: integrity, character and being a great football player.”

That is, with the exception that he isn't a quarterback or running back, and no defensive player has won the award aside from Michigan defensive back Charles Woodson (1997), who also returned punts.

Some factors that could work in Te'o's favor obviously are the unexpected success that the third-ranked Fighting Irish have enjoyed this season (8-0) and the national attention that comes with each victory. However, it isn't just the victories that help Te'o, but his play in those wins.

Against the Sooners, not only did Notre Dame earn a stunning 30-13 victory (i.e., great defensive performance), but Te'o's sack of quarterback Landry Jones and his diving interception in the final minutes were memory-makers for the Heisman voters. Those types of plays are what Kelly believes the voters are looking for – even if it has solely been on offense.

“I think people that are voting are looking for game changers,” Kelly said. “Very rarely does a defensive player dictate the outcome of games as much as that skill player does.”

But it's not Kelly's desire to be a traditionalist in most regards, let alone this one. This is a guy who dreams of field turf and jumbotrons at Notre Dame Stadium, so don't expect him to march in step with voters who feel offensive players only should be the norm for the Heisman.

“I think that has been the tendency,” Kelly said, “but I think that it is a good year to break that.”