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Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o has six down, Heisman to go

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o left Texas A M quarterback Johnny Manziel two three Heisman Trophy finalists pose with Heisman

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, Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

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Updated: December 9, 2012 2:52PM

NEW YORK — Manti Te’o stepped over the wires from two dozen cameras, navigated his way through the three dozen reporters and plunked himself down in a high-back leather chair for his umpteenth interview of the week.

For once, though, he didn’t need to double-check his schedule to see where he was — was it Charlotte, N.C., for the Nagurski or Houston for the Lombardi or Orlando, Fla., for the Maxwell? — because this is the Big One. New York for the Heisman Trophy. A record six trophies down, one very big one to go.

He sighed before smiling and saying hello to the gathered masses. His eyelids looked heavy, having landed in New York early in the morning after leaving Orlando. As remarkable a week as it has been for the Notre Dame linebacker — he has won the Butkus, Nagurski, Lombardi, Camp, Bednarik and Maxwell awards, breaking Charles Woodson’s mark of five national trophies — it has been just as exhausting.

“I’m tired,” he said. “I really just want to go to sleep. But I’ve got to work out.”

Keeping himself in some semblance of shape for when he returns to campus and begins preparation for the BCS national championship game Jan. 7 against Alabama has been one of the hardest parts of awards week. Hotel fitness centers aren’t quite the same as Notre Dame’s facilities. He also has had to show some self-control with his diet without team coaches hovering over his every meal.

“It’s about having discipline,” he said.

Besides putting on a tuxedo and walking on stage to accept his award of the day, Te’o also has had to study for finals next week and deal with media event after media event, such as the one Friday at the Marriott Marquis, just down Broadway from the Best Buy Theater, where the Heisman ceremony will take place Saturday night.

Te’o is running out of ways to say how speechless he is from all the honors. So if he has to give one more speech Saturday in front of millions of television viewers?

“I really don’t know,” he said. “When I won the Bednarik [top defensive player], I was at a loss for words. Then I found out I won the Maxwell [most outstanding player], I couldn’t even imagine that. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I were to win the Heisman. I’d be speechless, to be honest with you.”

But Te’o lit up when asked about his newfound friendship with Manziel, the Texas A&M quarterback and presumed front-runner for the Heisman. Forging friendships with some of the other elite players on the awards circuit has been the best part of a week Te’o and Manziel each referred to as “a dream.”

“He’s a real cool guy,” Te’o said. “He’s just like all of us. We love the game, we love what it can do for our family, and we don’t like the spotlight, but we understand it comes with the territory.”

Te’o’s parents, Brian and Ottilia, even invited Manziel to visit them in Hawaii. When they told him the cliff-jumping scene from the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” was filmed near their house, Manziel said, “You sold me. I’m sold. I’ve got to buy my plane tickets.”

Manziel said he and Te’o hit it off right away.

“To see how he plays on the field, with how big he is and how intimidating he is, I thought he might be a guy who’d like to stuff me in a locker and maybe beat me up a little bit,” Manziel said. “But to find out how good of a football player he is, and then to know how well we click off the football field, and how great of a guy he is, it’s been awesome to see that.”

Te’o has been prodding Manziel, whose signature win came against then-No. 1 Alabama, for some tips. Manziel said he’s torn because he’s an SEC guy. But Te’o said he won’t take “no” for an answer.

“I told him that he has to tell me his secrets,” Te’o said.

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