SOUTH BEND, Ind. - If Manti Te'o's career at Notre Dame has seemed like something straight out of a Hollywood script, perhaps it is fitting the linebacker is cast as an underdog in the final two scenes of his collegiate career.
First, he will try to become the first defense-only player to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday, going up against a couple of quarterbacks - Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Kansas State's Collin Klein. Next month, he will lead the top-ranked Fighting Irish against defending champion Alabama in the Bowl Championship Series title game as Notre Dame tries to become the first team since Brigham Young in 1984 to start a season unranked and win it all.
The Punahou School graduate still finds it all a bit hard to believe.
Manti Te‘o of Notre Dame holds the Maxwell Award, one of two player-of-the-year honors to go his way Thursday, along with the Walter Camp Award.
"It's something that I never - I don't think anybody could anticipate or expect. It's always a goal to be the best, to be the best you can be, and I just - I didn't think that it would be to this magnitude," he said. "I'm just very grateful to be in this situation and to represent my team."
The biggest item missing from Te'o's resume, from the perspective of some Heisman Trophy voters, might be that he's never passed or run for a touchdown, just about a prerequisite for winners. He has plenty of other impressive numbers, though. His seven interceptions are the most ever by a Notre Dame linebacker, and most by any linebacker since Georgia's Tony Taylor had that many in 2006. Te'o also has 103 tackles.
It was enough to earn him the Walter Camp and Maxwell awards, the national player of the year recognitions presented on Thursday.
College Football Awards
Walter Camp National Player of the Year-Manti Te'o (left), Notre Dame
Maxwell Award (best all-around player)-Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award-Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Doak Walker Award (outstanding running back)-Montee Ball, Wisconsin
Fred Biletnikoff Award (outstanding receiver)-Marqise Lee, Southern Cal
Chuck Bedarnik Trophy (best defensive player)-Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
Outland Trophy (outstanding collegiate interior lineman)-Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
Jim Thorpe Award (best defensive back)-Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
Lou Groza Award (outstanding place-kicker)-Cairo Santos, Tulane
Ray Guy Award (best punter)-Ryan Allen, Louisiana Tech
Sports Spirit Award-Nate Boyer, Texas
Coach of the Year-Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
"If a guy like Manti isn't going to win the Heisman they should just make it an offensive award and just give it to the offensive player every year and cut to the chase," said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. "He is the backbone of a 12-0 football team that has proven itself each and every week."
The only defensive player to win the trophy was Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson in 1997 - but Woodson also played some wide receiver and returned punts.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said he's never understood why defensive players don't receive the award, and believes Te'o is deserving.
"They're noted for their defense and he's the quarterback of the defense," Stoops said. "He's been the guy all year. He's been their guy and I don't think there's any question he's a guy that should have a great opportunity to win it."
Te'o showed his leadership skills before the Irish faced the Sooners this year. Quarterback Everett Golson had struggled against Michigan and Te'o asked Kelly if he could talk to Golson before the game with Oklahoma. Kelly didn't ask Te'o what he wanted to say.
"Because it's really not important for me what Manti is talking about with the quarterback because I know what he's going to say is all positive. But Everett got up with a big smile on his face. I think it set him at ease," Kelly said. "I think he impacts everybody on our football team."
A Mormon from Hawaii winding up at a Catholic university in a northern Indiana city that averages more than 70 inches of snow per year seems unlikely. Te'o wore shorts and rubber slippers for his visit to Notre Dame over a blustery November weekend when some in the crowd threw snowballs at Irish players during an embarrassing loss to Syracuse, the first eight-loss team ever to beat Notre Dame.
Te'o has said the game did not play a role in his decision. What did, though, was his English teacher showing the movie "Dead Poets Society" on the eve of signing day in February 2009. Te'o had already decided he was going to Southern California, but a character in the film struggling with a difficult choice prompted Te'o to rethink his plan. He prayed, and something told him to go to Notre Dame.
He prayed again following his freshman season about whether to return or go on a Mormon mission. He did the same thing again a year ago when deciding whether to enter the NFL draft or come back for his senior season.
He believes what has happened to him this season shows the power of prayer.
"I think for anybody who's questioning if God lives, he lives, and I'm an example of that. For those who don't know if he answers your prayers,
he does, because he answered mine. If he didn't answer prayers, I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't have come here. I definitely wouldn't have come back for my senior year. And I wouldn't have done a lot of things that I've done," he said.
Te'o hopes he'll leave a legacy, which he surely will if Notre Dame beats Alabama next month and wins its first national title since 1988. The main thing he wants to be remembered as, however, is someone who gave his best.
"If you don't do things to be the best at it, why are you doing it? So I'm just trying to be the best," he said. "Once I leave here, I hope that the impact I've made not only on the football field but in people's lives will forever be remembered."
* The Associated Press' Jeff Latzke in Norman, Okla., contributed to this report.