SOUTH BEND – How unique is Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te'o? Well, The News-Sentinel doesn't have enough paper or ink to detail the various ways that have made this All-America player standout at an institution that sees greatness on its campus, classrooms, and athletic fields virtually on a daily basis.
There is his unique blend of speed, power, yet grace and athleticism displayed on the football field.
There is his devout belief in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, yet he chose a Catholic institution to study at for four years.
And there is this bit of personal information revealed on Thursday: He's incredibly sad that he no longer has to go to class.
Yes, the guy is unusual.
“Preeminent sports brands are rare,” Fighting Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in speaking of Te'o. “Even rarer is an athlete that perfectly captures the essence of a sports program.”
Te'o was honored – again – on Thursday with a sportsman ship award from the Awards and Recognition Association. It will be one of many honors that he will receive over the next couple of weeks. His schedule through the next 10 days includes trips to Charlotte, New York (twice), Orlando and Los Angeles, as he is a candidate for the Nagurski Award, Lombardi Trophy, Maxwell Award, Bednarik Award, Lott Trophy, Butkus Award, oh, and that one called the Heisman Trophy.
“I just go where I'm told,” Te'o laughed regarding his travel plans.
But none of those were on his mind on Thursday, as he was melancholy in talking on the end of his school year, not the football portion, but the late-night studying in the library and having to write papers portion.
“All I've been thinking about is the time that I have left here at school with my peers and my classmates,” Te'o said. “I'll be gone all next week, so today was my last day of school and today was just hard for me, to know that it has come to an end.”
Te'o spoke of a lot of things on Thursday, things like hanging out with friends, going to the Irish basketball game against Kentucky later that night, college-life activities. He never mentioned the fact that in addition to the sportsmanship award, earlier in the day he had been named as a 2012 All-American first team selection by the American Football Coaches Association, as well as being chosen as one of five finalists for the Walter Camp Football Foundation Player of the Year Award.
He didn't mention those things because his mind isn't consumed with them. Te'o is simply trying “to take advantage of every day” on the campus that he initially didn't understand (he failed to bring a coat on his first visit), yet has developed an undying affection for.
“I love Notre Dame,” Te'o said emphatically. “I love this place. This place is definitely special. It's not a school. This place is not a school, it is a family. It is a place that you will always be connected with and welcomed for the rest of your life.”
Te'o credited the Lord for steering him nearly 4,500 miles from home for college, and despite the weather, he has no regrets.
“I wouldn't want to be anywhere else,” Te'o said. “And I can't picture myself anywhere else but here under the (Golden) Dome and with my teammates. I'm definitely going to miss this place. And I'm definitely grateful that I came here because it has been the best four years of my life.”