“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.”
--Heisman Trust Mission Statement
GOSHEN, Ind. -- The Heisman Trophy is supposed to go to the nation’s best college football player.
Not, despite what the national media might tell you, the best quarterback, the best running back, or the best wide receiver.
There’s nothing in the rules that says the nation’s most coveted college football award has to go to an offensive skill player at all.
And on occasion, it hasn’t. Charles Woodson, a Michigan standout who now toils for the Green Bay Packers, comes to mind.
Next Saturday night, when the 2012 recipient is announced at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York, if the Heisman voters want to pick someone who embodies each and every one of the qualities sought in their mission statement, there’s one clear choice.
That choice is Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te’o.
The resume Te’o brings to the table is staggering: A four-year career; 48 career starts in 50 games played; 427 total tackles; 34 tackles for loss for a total of 114 yards lost.
And this year, seven interceptions.
Quite frankly, Te’o is, above and beyond, the best college football player in the country.
And as far as diligence, perseverance and hard work — those qualities fit Te’o better than any other player I can think of at the moment.
The East Coast media and the four-letter network that seems to call the tune for college sports these days has spent much time lately hyping the latest flavor-of-the week candidate.
Heisman voters should ignore the latest hypefest and take a good, long look at a player right here in our own backyard.
Much has been made of Te’o’s personal tragedies this season: Losing his girlfriend and grandmother on the same day — and then going out and playing one of the best games of his life that night against Michigan State.
Watching the end of that game here in the office on a busy Saturday night — anyone who has been in Teo’s position, a group that includes me — knows well that you can only put off grief for so long.
It’s a patient emotion, and eventually it’s coming for its pound of flesh — on its terms.
I found tears coming to my own eyes as I watched Te’o on the sidelines, the emotions of the day finally hitting him, tears rolling down his cheeks.
As the Irish players hit the field before each game at Notre Dame Stadium, they pass by a sign that exhorts them to “Play like a champion today.”
And to do that, first you need the heart of a champion.
Manti Te’o has that and then some.
Give him the Heisman.
David Vantress is a columnist for The Goshen (Ind.) News.