Manti Te'o Deserves the Heisman; Johnny Football Can Wait

Jason Cappell@@jasoncappellContributor IIIDecember 7, 2012

Manti Te'o Deserves the Heisman; Johnny Football Can Wait

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    On Saturday December 8th the Heisman Award will be presented in New York City.

    The three final candidates include Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o. All three athletes had remarkable years, but only one can be crowned the nations best player and take home the historic award. 

    Johnny "Football" Manziel led the Aggies to a 10-2 Record. He single-handedly upset the SEC's top ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. 

    Collin Klein led the Wildcats to an 11-1 record. He becomes the first Kansas State player to be nominated for the Heisman since Michael Bishop in 1998. 

    And Manti "The Hawaiian Hitman" Te'o guided Notre Dame to a perfect 12-0 season. He led perhaps the stingiest defense in the nation to take on the Crimson Tide in the National Championship game.

    Manziel might be touted as the favorite to take home the award, but it's Te'o who deserves the national spotlight this year.


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    Character is often mistakenly ignored when voters select the Heisman winner. It is something that should be taken into greater consideration.

    After all, the Heisman Trust Mission Statement reads as follows,

    The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work. The Heisman Trophy Trust ensures the continuation and integrity of this award. The Trust, furthermore, has a charitable mission to support amateur athletics and to provide greater opportunities to the youth of our country. Our goal through these charitable endeavors is for the Heisman Trophy to symbolize the fostering of a sense of community responsibility and service to our youth, especially those disadvantaged or afflicted. All assets of the Trust beyond the expense of maintaining the annual presentation of the Heisman Memorial Trophy are reserved for such charitable causes. The Trustees, who all serve pro bono, are guided by a devotion to college football and are committed to community service and the valued tradition, which the Trophy represents.

    Given this mission statement, is there really any other choice this year than Te’o? 

    Surprisingly some winners have displayed questionable character.

    In 2010 Auburns Cam Newton won the award. While there’s no denying Newton’s athletic ability, his character can certainly be put to question. According to Fox Sports: "Newton had three separate instances of academic cheating while attending the University of Florida. He also faced charges of burglary, larceny and obstruction of justice after a stolen laptop was found in his possession."

    Voters are instructed to select "the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity."

    Its a shame too many Heisman voters ignore that final word because character, integrity and ethics all matter. 

    Manti Te'o is a great football player but first and foremost he is a leader both on and off the field.

    Te’o made the decision to return for his senior year at Notre Dame. He passed up millions of dollars in a draft where he would have certainly gone in the first round. When Te'o returned, very few expected to see the Notre Dame program undergo such a drastic turnaround.  After finishing unranked last season, Notre Dame evolved into an undefeated squad.

    In September the Hawaiian lost both his girlfriend and grandmother within 24 hours. The day of his girlfriend's funeral, he led the Irish to victory over their arch rival Michigan Wolverines, hauling in two interceptions. Talk about heroics.... 

    Battling tragedy and heartache, Te'o has overcome his adversities with class, dignity and maturity. It shouldn't matter that he plays on the defensive side of the ball. Nobody in college football better personifies the values of the Heisman Trophy, on or off the field, than Te'o.

    He graduated as an Academic All-American and hits the opposition even harder than the books. After his junior season Te’o turned down NFL riches and restored one of the most historic college football programs to glory.

    Just last week Te'o earned the national sportsmanship award from the Awards and Recognition Association. 

    While Johnny Football is an outstanding quarterback and the face of the Aggies program, he doesn't come anywhere near Te'o when it comes to heart and character.

Defense Wins Championships

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    Its no secret that defense wins championships. Alabama can thank their dominant defense for their national championship last season. 

    College Football hasn't seen a player like Manti Te'o in quite some time. Sure there have been great defensive players to take the field on Saturdays but Te'o is in a class of his own. 

    Te'o was named the 2012 Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner as the top defensive player in the nation. In fact, Te'o became only the second college football player to win the Butkus, Nagurski and Lombardi awards in the same season.

    He has been the unquestioned leader of the best team in the country. He finished the regular season with 103 tackles, seven interceptions and 11 passes defended.

    Notre Dame’s offense was inconsistent this season and ranked 76th in points scored. But their defense surpassed all expectations and couldn't have been any better this year, allowing the fewest points of any team in the country. 

    Te'o has been exceptional in every one of the Irish’s games this season, and his play is the single biggest reason why Notre Dame is playing for a national championship. 

    There’s no denying Manziels impact on the offensive side of the ball. Manziel’s numbers are incredible and cannot be ignored.

    But its about time voters steered away from the sexy pick. A defender hasn't won the Heisman since University of Michigan standout Charles Woodson took home the award in 1997.

    However Woodson's offensive contributions played a big role in his award-winning season. No pure defensive player has ever won the Heisman; it’s time for a change.

    Notre Dames Coach Brian Kelly said it best after the Irish beat USC in the final week of the season : “If a guy like Manti Te’o is not going to win the Heisman, they should just make it an offensive award, He is the backbone of a 12-0 football team that has proven itself each and every week."

     Impact can’t always be measured in numbers. Take away Manziel from the Aggies and they’re still left with one of the best offensive lines in football.  Watching Te’o play it is clear that he has a notable impact on his teammates.

    Without him, Notre Dame still has a great defense, but not an elite one and definitely not a national-championship caliber defense.

    Defense wins championships—plain and simple. While Notre Dame hasn't played in the National Championship yet, they can thank Te'o for getting them there. 

Supporting Cast

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    Johnny Football is graced with one of the best offensive lines in football. Offensive tackles Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel  are two of the best in the country. Both are most certainly NFL bound, and likely first-round picks.

    Joeckel is an elite left tackle as a 6'6", 310-pound junior. Matthews is a great right tackle  and the son of 14 time Pro Bowler and hall of fame lineman Bruce Matthews. 

    Senior center Patrick Lewis  and sophomore guards Cedric Ogbuehi and Jarvis Harrison are no slouches either. They round out one of the elite and most experienced units in the nation.

    While Manziel is a special talent at quarterback he can thank his offensive line for the Aggies averaging 552 yards of offense a game. 

    Manti Te'o on the other hand is the heart and soul of the Notre Dame defense. The best player on the best team in the country. Ever since safeties Robert Blanton and Harrison Smith left for the NFL it became clear that it was Te’os team.

    Defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt, and Louis Nix are both great players in their own regard. But neither has the impact that Te'o does. Te'o defends both the run and pass exceptionally well, and makes game changing plays all over the field.

    Amazingly, Te'o ranks tied for second in the NCAA with his seven interceptions. Tied with defensive backs that is. Kiko Alonso of Oregon is second among NCAA linebackers, having just four picks.

    It’s clear that Johnny Football has much better talent around him. Yet it’s Te'o who surprisingly led his team to a national championship and undefeated season.

Heisman Moment?

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    There has been a rush to judgment on Manziel. Ever since Johnny Manziel upset Alabama on national TV, Johnny Football "mania" has set the college football world ablaze.

    Many voters believe you need a "Heisman moment" in order to take home the award. A moment, likely seen on national television that defines a remarkable season. Manziel sure had his. Texas A&M stunned Alabama in Tuscaloosa and Manziel had a game for the ages. 

    What voters seem to forget is Te'o has showed up each and every week for a 12-0 team. Though he didn't quite have a signature moment like Manziel did, Te’o, on the other hand, has played at a high level each week and saved his best performances for the biggest stage.

    A day after the deaths of his girlfriend and grandmother he returned to the field. The Irish defeated Michigan and held Denard Robinson to just six points. Te'o recorded two picks in the dramatic contest.

    In October, Te’o led the first of many notable Notre Dame goal line stands this season to secure a 20-13 win against Stanford.

    Two weeks later, he led the Irish to an upset win in Norman over the Oklahoma Sooners. Te'o clinched the victory over Oklahoma with a late interception. In the season finale against USC Te'o spearheaded yet another memorable goal line stand.

    The linebacker added his seventh pick of the season in his final regular season NCAA game. 

    While Johnny Football was remarkable in his win over the Crimson Tide, he failed to perform at a high level each and every week. 

    In the Aggies two losses this season Manziel was far from extraordinary. In his first collegiate start, Manziel totaled just 233 yards in a home loss to the Florida Gators.

    In the Aggies’ second home loss of the season, Johnny Football completed only 29 of 56 passes for 276 yards and three interceptions against LSU. 

    Thirteen of Manziels 24 passing touchdowns came in four non-conference games against Southern Methodist, South Carolina State, Sam Houston State and Louisiana Tech. In SEC play, he threw for just 11 touchdowns compared to six interceptions—not exactly the type of numbers you expect to see from a Heisman winner against elite competition. 

Closing Thoughts

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    This is the year to throw conventional wisdom out the window. The Heisman winner should not be another quarterback. If the award stays true to its mission statement, it will go to a defensive player for the first time since 1997.

    It will go to Manti Te’o.

    The linebacker’s season has been unbelievable. He has inspired many with his character both on and off the field. He deserves the Heisman far more than Manziel and Collin Klein.