Considered by many to be the nation's best defensive player, Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te'o will go down as the season's top player period, as he was named the recipient of the 2012 Maxwell Award on Thursday night.
George Schroeder of USA Today poses the question everyone is thinking:
Manti Te'o wins the Maxwell (player of the year), his 6th major award. Will he add the Heisman on Saturday?— George Schroeder (@GeorgeSchroeder) December 7, 2012
The senior linebacker beat out two top-flight quarterbacks, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Kansas State's Collin Klein to take home the award. The Maxwell Award is given out by an exclusive panel of writers, coaches and other media members, and two of the past five Maxwell winners have gone on to win the Heisman Trophy.
Te'o came into the 2012 season widely respected among the "in-the-know" college football fans, but widely ignored by the mainstream.
That all changed this season. Te'o stepped in and became the heart and soul of the Irish's defense all season long. Leading Notre Dame to hard-fought wins over a difficult schedule, Te'o racked up 103 total tackles, 1.5 sacks and a whopping seven interceptions.
It also helps that the Irish defense is a huge reason why they will be playing for a national championship in January. The 2012 regular season saw Notre Dame give up just 10.3 points per game and constantly pick up the slack for a middling offense.
While it was an obvious team effort, Te'o's leadership was a guiding force. Mostly quiet off the field, Te'o is a strong leader whose play exudes confidence and will undoubtedly make him an interesting professional prospect.
The victory for Te'o on Thursday night also made a bit of underrated history. The Irish star became the first defensive player to win the Maxwell Award since Pittsburgh linebacker Hugh Green in 1980 and just the second Notre Dame player to come away with the trophy since 1977.
Considering the Irish will be playing to win their first national championship since 1988, let's just say the history-making may not be over for Te'o just yet.