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The Greatest Fighting Irish Defensive Player of All-Time

Dec 6, 2012, 10:03 PM EST

Te'o leaves the field during the fourth quarter of Notre Dame's Senior Day game on Nov. 17, 2012. (Photo by Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame)

It’s a bold statement, but you can mark it down.

Manti Te’o is the greatest defensive player the Fighting Irish have ever had.

From Alan Page and Luther Bradley, to Ross Browner, Bob Crable and Chris Zorich, generations of Domers have seen many stellar defensive players run out the famed tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium.

But after this evening’s Home Depot College Football Awards, no one is as decorated as the Irish’s senior linebacker from Laie, Hawaii.

Te’o picked up a trio of honors tonight, sweeping the awards he was a finalist for, and has earned six major postseason trophies this year. He has now surpassed Michigan’s Charles Woodson for the most ever in one season. In 1997, Woodson won five – the Bednarik Award, Nagurski Trophy, Jim Thorpe Award, Walter Camp Award, and Heisman Trophy.

He is a finalist for the Heisman Trophy (Saturday) and Lott IMPACT Trophy (Sunday). For now, here’s a look at Te’o’s week so far:

Butkus Award – In 2008, Te’o was the winner of the first high school Butkus Award. He closes out his college career by becoming the first Notre Dame player to win the award (given to the top linebacker) since its inception in 1985.

Nagurski Trophy – Later that evening, Te’o was named the 2012 recipient of the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded to the NCAA’s best defensive player, as presented by the Charlotte Touchdown Club and the Football Writers Association of America. This also marks the first time an Irish player has won the award.

Lombardi Award – In Houston, Te’o won the Rotary Lombardi Award, given to college football’s best lineman or linebacker. He is the fifth Notre Dame recipient, and first since Aaron Taylor in 1993. Other previous winners include Zorich (1990), Browner (1977) and Walt Patulski (1971).

Walter Camp Award – During the 6 pm ET edition of Sportscenter, Te’o was announced as the 2012 Walter Camp Player of the Year, becoming the third defensive player to ever win the award, and the first since Woodson in ’97. Te’o is the fourth Notre Dame player to take home the honor – after Ken MacAfee (1977), Tim Brown (1987) and Raghib “Rocket” Ismail (1990). The Walter Camp Award is voted on by all FBS head coaches and sports information directors.

Bednarik Award – At The Home Depot College Football Awards at the Atlantic Dance Hall on Disney’s Boardwalk in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Te’o became the first Notre Dame player to ever receive the Chuck Bednarik Award, presented annually since 1995 to the best defensive player in college football. He is the first linebacker to win it since Rey Maualuga of USC in 2008.

Maxwell Award – The only defensive player among the finalists, Te’o also became Notre Dame’s sixth Maxwell Award recipient since the award was introduced in 1937. Given annually to college football’s player of the year, past Irish Maxwell winners include Leon Hart (1949), Johnny Lattner (1952, 1953), Jim Lynch (1966), Ross Browner (1977) and Brady Quinn (2006). The last time a defensive player received the honor was in 1980 (Pittsburgh’s Hugh Green).

Te’o’s next stop will be in New York, where he will join Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Kansas State’s Collin Klein for the Heisman Trophy presentation at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square. On Sunday, he’ll be in Newport Beach (2,792 miles across the country) as a finalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy.

No matter what happens this weekend, Te’o has asserted himself as the best defensive player to ever wear the blue and gold, and he now stands alone in the history books with an unprecedented six major college football awards.

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