LOS ANGELES -- Through Notre Dame's 12-0 run, Manti Te'o's been more than the team's defensive leader on the field; more than a Heisman candidate; more than one of the team's record holders.
He's been the face of the resurgence of a storied football program that has accomplished things the right way, and tonight was no exception.
Te'o kicked off the evening running to shake the hand of injured USC quarterback Matt Barkley and congratulate him on his successes prior to the start of Saturday's game at the Coliseum.
From that moment on, it was another night of making history for Notre Dame, as the Fighting Irish earned a trip to the BCS Championship in Florida.
"It's a blessing," Te'o said after exiting the team's locker room celebration. "I can't believe it and I'm just really happy."
Te'o's performance Saturday only added to his legend at Notre Dame. Although the first half of Saturday's matchup was dominated by Notre Dame's offense, Te'o entered the second half with strength and determination, never slowing down as time on the clock continued to wind down.
He recorded his 100th tackle this year, joining Bob Crable as just the second Notre Dame player to record 100 or more in three straight seasons. His seventh interception is now the most by any FBS linebacker since 2000.
But despite his own personal statistics, Te'o's focus remains on the team as a whole and their final game of the season.
"I wanted to go to the National Championship, and now I am," Te'o said. "If I win the Heisman Trophy, that's going to be great and it's going to be a great honor for my family, but if I don't, I'm just glad we're going to Miami.
"Our team had a dream and we put in the work to make sure that the dream comes true. Now we have to go to work and prepare ourselves for the National Championship."
But when it comes to getting the recognition he deserves, the Notre Dame brass believes Te'o has everything it takes to win the Heisman.
"If a guy like Manti Te'o's not going to win the Heisman, they should just make it an offensive award," coach Brian Kelly said. "Just give it to the offensive player every year and let's just cut to the chase. He is the backbone of a 12-0 football team that has proven itself each and every week. He's showed it tonight with another key interception and a great play in the end zone on Marqise Lee to save another touchdown.
"If the Heisman Trophy is what it is, I don't know how Manti Te'o is left out of that conversation."
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick agreed:
"I can't find somebody who matches a leading player, a leader of a team who matches the values of the team he represents as well as Manti Te'o. He is the perfect guy to lead the resurrection of this program."