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Sports & Fitness // Keeping Score
Bob Hogue

Te’o Fits The Bill For The Heisman

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, left, celebrates with teammate Stephon Tuitt, right, and Bennett Jackson (2) after an interception against Oklahoma. Sue Ogracki / AP photo

I liked Manti Te’o the other day. I also liked the Manti Te’o Official Fan Club and Manti Te’o for the Heisman. All of these are Facebook pages and a growing indication of social media’s impact in the race for the Heisman Trophy.

All of Manti’s Facebook pages have been “liked” thousands and thousands of times. The comments about the Hawaii-born senior linebacker for Notre Dame are from all over the world. There are new phrases, like “Fear the Te’o.” There are even new words coined for the former Punahou allstate star, “Te’owned”.

With monstrous tackles and game-saving interceptions, Manti has become one of the most talked about linebackers since Dick Butkus.

Carrie Okuhard writes on Facebook, “Imua Manti!!! Ur doing Hawaii proud … Not only Hawaii … but a lot of keikis out there … Keep being humble.”

On Manti’s incredible run for the Heisman, a Facebook writer calling himself “Kikko Man” says, “We need a pure defensive player to win this. It will offset the bias and open the door for other positions to win the Heisman. We need an animal like Te’o as the front-runner. He’s got my vote!”

The effort to push Manti for the Heisman even includes a YouTube video, which you can see at http://www.youtube.com/wa tch?v=h3FeQ5YuiHY. If you go to that webpage, you’ll see a Manti Te’o Notre Dame Highlight Tribute “in honor of the greatest player in college football and for all he’s done for Notre Dame on and off the field. The song is Invincible by MGK”.

In the video, an emotion-driven Manti pounds his heart, touches his finger to his lips, and points to the sky.

The gesture is a loving tribute to his former girlfriend who lost her battle with leukemia, and also to his grandmother – both died only days apart earlier this season. Manti not only played through the pain, but also took his game to a higher level, with an incredible performance on national television.

The way he handled himself throughout the tragedy led to praise from people both inside and outside the world of college athletics. Another more private story that eventually went public also showed the linebacker’s incredible character.

When told about another ordeal, Manti wrote to the family of a 12-year-old leukemia victim about how he could relate to their pain, plus the role that religion played in the healing process. The family received his two-page note on the day of the girl’s death, and as she lay taking her last breaths, they read it to her.

Manti didn’t publicize this. It only came to light because of friends of the victim’s family. That gesture said as much about his thoughtfulness and aloha spirit as anything.

I know I’m like so many people from Hawaii who are absolutely biased in favor of Manti’s Heisman Trophy run, but if it takes “liking” every one of his Facebook pages or talking him up on sports radio or writing columns, I’m all in.

After watching him play on the field, and more importantly, after hearing about how he continues to handle himself off the field, I can’t think of a more deserving young man for the award. In its mission statement, it says “The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”

That statement is the personification of Manti Te’o.

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