Te'o wins two honors, named Heisman finalist as awards tour begins

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Te'o wins two honors, named Heisman finalist as awards tour begins

Manti Te'o can finally add New York to his travel itinerary.

Notre Dame's senior linebacker will extend his awards tour through Saturday, when he'll attend the Heisman Trophy presentation ceremony in Times Square. Te'o will be joined by Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein.

Most figure Manziel will win the honor, which a defensive player hasn't won since 1997. But having a defensive player who didn't have an impact on be named a finalist for the award is extremely rare -- Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh finished fourth in 2009 -- and Te'o will finish no lower than third in this year's balloting.

Te'o is Notre Dame's first Heisman Trophy finalist since Brady Quinn, who finished third in 2006 and fourth in 2005. Reggie Brooks finished fifth in 1992, Rocket Ismail was second in 1990 and Tony Rice was fourth in 1989, among recent Irish finalists. Tim Brown was the last Notre Dame player to win the Heisman, with that honor coming in 1987. The school's other winners are John Huarte (1964), Paul Hornung (1956), John Lattner (1953), Leon Hart (1949), John Lujack (1947) and Angelo Bertelli (1943).

While Te'o will find out his Heisman fate Saturday night, the linebacker took home two prestigious honors Monday, winning the Butkus Award (nation's best linebacker) and Nagurski Trophy (top defensive player).

"It's definitely a great accomplishment for me," Te'o said of winning the Nagurski Trophy. "I've ways wanted to be the best. For this to happen helps me to know I'm heading in the right direction. The formula is the same: Hard work leads to success as long as I keep doing it."

All season, though, Te'o hasn't been concerned with personal awards, at least compared to his goal of reaching a national championship that certainly seemed lofty three months ago. But with success comes accolades, especially for a player identified by most as the heart and soul of Notre Dame's resurgence.

Te'o's voyage on the awards circuit took him to Charlotte on Monday, and he'll be in Houston and New York later in the week as well. That means Te'o won't be with his teammates when they begin practicing Friday for the BCS Championship.

"I said listen, this week you gotta write it off. It's not going to be a football week for you," coach Brian Kelly said. "When you have an undefeated football team and a great player, awards generally follow you and this week he's going to do the best he can to work out in the hotels and focus on these postseason awards."

Kelly added Te'o is "burnt out" by the attention of the awards circuit that'll zip him across the country over the next week. His biggest concern, though, has been conditioning and staying in shape, as he relayed last week.

"I asked coach Kelly to make sure that there's a gym in whatever place we stay so when I come back I'm not D-lineman," Te'o said. "That's definitely something that I'll do myself to make sure I stay in shape."

The Butkus Award is also given to a high school player, and Irish commit Jaylon Smith (Ft. Wayne, Ind.) garnered the honor.

Smith, rated as the nation's top linebacker and third-best prep player by Rivals.com, is the jewel of Notre Dame's 2013 recruiting class. And not to lop pressure on Smith, but the last high school recipient of the Butkus Award was Te'o.

In other awards news, Braxston Cave was named a finalist for the Rimington Award (nation's top center) and Kelly was named a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award (nation's top coach).

Wake-up Call: Cubs surge into first place; White Sox continue slide

Wake-up Call: Cubs surge into first place; White Sox continue slide

Here are some of Sunday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Willson Contreras is playing his butt off right now for first-place Cubs

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for coaching staff

White Sox: The big-picture reasoning behind Rick Renteria and bunting

Jose Quintana reveling in first place vibes after 'overexcited' home Cubs debut

What White Sox 'fireman' Anthony Swarzak has done to increase trade value

Go behind the scenes with Kendall Gill at The Big 3 in Chicago

33 Days to Kickoff: Westmont

Willson Contreras is playing his butt off right now for first-place Cubs

Willson Contreras is playing his butt off right now for first-place Cubs

This really is becoming Willson Contreras' team.

The dude is absolutely on fire right now and has almost singlehandedly lifted the Cubs back into first place.

Since the All-Star Break, Contreras has crushed four homers and three doubles while driving in 11 runs in just eight games. 

The Cubs have won seven of those games, including Sunday night when Contreras' two-run shot in the sixth inning turned out to be the game-winner that pushed the Cubs into a first-place tie with the Milwaukee Brewers. (The Cubs also won the only game Contreras hasn't started since the Break.)

In the span of nine games, the Cubs have already erased the 5.5 game deficit they had in the National League Central entering the midseason break.

"He's just playing his butt off, literally, right now," Joe Maddon said. "Everything he's doing is pretty darn good. He plays with enthusiasm, also. You gotta feel that in the stands.

"There's some times he might get over-enthusiastic. I prefer toning people down as opposed to pumping them up all the time. He's doing everything. He's hitting fourth, he's catching, he's handling a really good pitching staff, he's throwing people out, he's blocking the ball really well and he's hitting homers, so God bless him."

Contreras' offense has been amazing, but Maddon credits the young catcher's block on a Wade Davis pitch in the dirt last week in Atlanta with helping to save the season. That play helped ensure a victory by not permitting the tying run to score from third base as the Cubs rattled off six straight wins to start the second half of 2017.

It's at the point now where Maddon cannot rationally find ways to get Contreras out of the lineup, even though the veteran manager is a huge proponent of rest and wants nothing more than to keep his players healthy and playing at a high level late in the season and into the playoffs.

Contreras is like the Energizer Bunny out there, hopping all around behind the plate to block balls, throwing guys out, pumping his chest, screaming obscenities at his first base coach after home runs. He even plays long toss (from the warning track in left-centerfield to about the spot the second baseman normally plays) before games with catching coach Mike Borzello.

The 25-year-old just does not turn down for anything when he's at the ballpark.

So does he ever get weary?

"I do get tired, but when I get home," he said. "When I'm here, I'm never tired. This is my job, this is what I love and you're gonna see me like that all throughout my career."

Contreras credits the Cubs coaching staff with helping him make the mental adjustments that has him in the conversation as one of the best catchers in baseball.

"He's growing up," Anthony Rizzo said. "He's really taking control behind the plate, which is nice. His at-bats just keep getting better and better and it's really fun to watch."

Contreras is on pace for 25 homers and 87 RBI, second only to Kansas City's Salvador Perez in both categories among catchers.

"He definitely has the abilities to be one of the elite catchers," Maddon said. "You gotta consider him one of the elite catchers in the National League already. Because he just does everything so well.

"The biggest next hurdle is just — without pulling him in too much — controlling his emotions a tad more without losing that enthusiasm that he has. Really understanding the game and calling the game and working his pitchers. 

"Mike Borzello does a great job with him. He started out this year and wasn't so good — missing his pitches, missing fastballs, fouling stuff off. But he stayed with it and now you see what he's capable of doing. He is really good right now and he's gonna get better."