Heisman: It's Te'o vs. Johnny Football

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, left, and Texas

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, left, and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, two of the three Heisman Trophy finalists, pose with the Heisman Trophy during a media availability in Manhattan. (Dec. 7, 2012) (Credit: AP )

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel shared a plane ride Thursday from Orlando to New York along with a bronze passenger known as the Heisman Trophy.

"It was heavy," Manziel said at a news conference with Te'o Friday at a midtown hotel. "I think we both had a hand on it the entire time. I didn't want to let it go. I wanted to sneak it into my backpack."

Te'o, Manziel and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, who was elsewhere accepting another award Friday night, are the three finalists who will be in New York for the Heisman Award ceremony Saturday night.

All three have great stories to tell, along with their feats on the football field.

Klein's chance likely disappeared when then-No. 1 K-State lost at Baylor.

Many project Manziel as the first-ever freshman winner thanks to the upset he led over defending national champion Alabama, 4,600 yards of total offense and his catchy "Johnny Football" nickname.

But Te'o, who led undefeated Notre Dame to No. 1 and a berth in the BCS National Championship against Alabama, has won six major postseason awards, including the Maxwell Trophy and Walter Camp Award as player of the year. He could become only the second defensive player to win the Heisman after Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson in 1997.

Asked what it would mean to take home the big one, Te'o said: "To be honest, I really don't know. When I won the Bednarik , I was lost for words, and then I found out I won the Maxwell. I could never imagine that happening.

"I can only imagine how I would feel if my name was called to win the Heisman. I definitely would be humbled and speechless. It would be a great ending to this section of my career at Notre Dame."

Manziel would be only the second recipient from Texas A&M, joining running back John David Crow (1957).

Describing his whirlwind ascent to national prominence, Manziel said: "Every day, I wake up and say, 'Mom and Dad, do we really have this on our schedule? Are we really going to Orlando for an awards show and then going to New York for the Heisman ceremony? Is this real life?' "

Manziel and Te'o have embraced their position as role models. The Aggies' quarterback wears a wristband honoring a young Houston boy undergoing a stem cell transplant to cure cancer. "I talk to him as much as I can," Manziel said. "If it helps him fight the battle he's going through, it's a small portion of my life."

Te'o spoke of the importance of setting a good example, especially to kids from his native Hawaii.

"I'm far from perfect," he said. "But in the things I do and the words I say and the way I conduct myself, I try to just relate to kids. Hopefully, when they see me, it inspires them to be something great."

Sounds as though the Heisman voters can't go wrong.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

College football video

Newsday Sports on Facebook

advertisement | advertise on newsday