Virgen’s View: Te’o caps special week in Newport Beach

Manti Te’o’s crazy, whirlwind of a week ended just the way he wanted: with the Ronnie Lott IMPACT Trophy at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach.

It was only a year ago when Te’o announced he was returning to play at Notre Dame during the ceremony at the Pacific Club. The Lott Trophy was special to him, because he looks up to Ronnie Lott and because he felt it would cap a special week.

It was a memorable week that ended Sunday in Newport Beach. He made six stops for award ceremonies in eight days. The Notre Dame star linebacker began in Charlotte, N.C., where he won the Nagurski Award, as the nation’s top defensive player.

Earlier in the day, he received a phone call from Dick Butkus who told Te’o he won the Butkus Award for being the nation’s top linebacker.

The next day, Dec. 4, he was in New York to accept an award as a national scholar-athlete from the National Football Foundation. He met NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell because the scholarship he won was endowed by the NFL.

He was in Houston for the Rotary Lombardi Award ceremony, where he won as college football’s best lineman or linebacker.

Then it was off to Orlando, Fla. for the ESPN Awards show, at which he took the Walter Camp (player of the year), Bednarik (top defensive player) and Maxwell Award (the nation’s most outstanding player) .

He went back to New York on Friday for the Heisman ceremony that took place on Saturday. He came in second behind Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M.; But he received the most votes ever by a defensive player.

Te’o didn’t really sleep that night. He left early in the morning on a private flight to attend the Lott Trophy ceremony in Newport Beach. The award is unique. It is as much for personal character as it is for athletic performance as a defensive player.

After logging 8,500 miles of travel, Te’o didn’t appear to be weathered at the Pacific Club. He smiled and laughed with the candidates, Arthur Brown (Kansas State) and Chase Thomas (Stanford). Jarvis Jones (Georgia) was also a candidate, but did not attend.

“This is a dream come true,” Te’o said after winning the Lott Trophy.

Te’o won his seventh national award, making him the most decorated defensive player in college football history. He’s the leader of the Notre Dame defense and helped the Fighting Irish to a No. 1 ranking and a spot in the national championship game.

“He understands that this is just a unique week during which he just needs to embrace the fact that people want to celebrate him and the year he has had,” said Brian Harden, Notre Dame’s sports information director, who traveled with Te’o throughout the week. “He’s not one that craves the individual attention. He’s a team-first guy. He really doesn’t care about the individual accolades.”

Te’o said he had a meaningful discussion with his father, Brian, last year, shortly after announcing he would return for his senior year at Notre Dame. His father told him to focus more on his faith as a Mormon and to strengthen his spiritual life. Brian knew his son would improve on the field but they believed building spiritual strength was imperative.

“It’s pretty unique that it took a Mormon from Hawaii to come to a small Catholic university in Indiana to re-instill faith in the fan base of the football team,” Harden said.

Te’o winning the Lott Trophy was among several highlights at the ceremony. Condoleeza Rice, the former U.S. Secretary of State, was the keynote speaker. She spoke about the importance of community.

She also talked about her love of football and how she grew up as a fan of Alabama football.

UCLA legend Ann Meyers-Drysdale introduced Rice.

“We’ve had some great speakers at the Lott Trophy ceremony,” Meyers-Drysdale said. “But we never had one who’s been a member of Augusta National … never had one who is a concert pianist … and never had one who has been Secretary of State of the United States of America.”

Twitter: @SteveVirgen