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Jones, Te'o, 2 of college football's good guys

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Jones, Te'o, 2 of college football's good guys

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) Alabama center Barrett Jones was hobbling toward the plane, awkwardly clutching crutches and a bag when a helping hand reached out.

``Here, let me get this for you,'' said Manti Te'o, Notre Dame's star linebacker.

Just a show of good manners from one of college football's best to another as they started an awards circuit that took them from New York to Houston to Orlando. And now they'll meet again, even farther south in the BCS championship Monday.

Jones and Te'o are the most acclaimed players on teams with national honors galore, and their upbeat personalities give college football just what it needs right now - an image boost - after being hit wave upon wave of scandal from State College, Pa., to Miami over the past couple of years.

Both players could be drawing sizable NFL paychecks right now, but they opted to stick around for their senior seasons and wrap up degrees. It's no coincidence that their teams have wound up here playing for a national title.

Te'o's answer Thursday to why he stuck around was telling. Representing Notre Dame, his native Hawaii and his teammates is ``one of the biggest pleasures and honors that I get.''

``And to just be an example to (Hawaiians) of somebody who made that leap of faith to leave the rock just for a few years and to find comfort in knowing that Hawaii will always be there,'' said Te'o, the Heisman Trophy runner-up. ``You can do a good amount of service to the state by sacrificing a few years away from home to help live your dream, and by you helping to live your dream, you help other people's dreams seem that much more real.''

It almost sounds too good to be true.

But teammates, coaches, friends and even acquaintances insist Jones and Te'o are just what they seem: good guys with strong faiths who work hard on and off the field.

They're not just Boy Scouts, though. OK, Te'o actually is an Eagle Scout.

He's also a rugged player who overcame the loss of two loved ones this season. Jones looks like a 6-foot-5, 302-pound version of the kid next door with his boyish blond hair, but he also gutted out most of the Southeastern Conference championship with a sprained left foot.

Te'o has even been known to write poetry, reciting a sizable poem during a talk last summer at Honolulu's newly formed Downtown Athletic Club.

``It was really well done,'' said Bobby Curran, a Honolulu radio show host who was emcee for the event. ``When do you see vicious linebacker types reading poetry? The kid is so self-assured. He didn't have any hesitation. There was no awkwardness or embarrassment or any of that.''

Jones grew up learning the violin and memorizing dozens of Bible verses, and was a pretty darn good Scrabble player. He spends his spring breaks on mission trips overseas to places such as Haiti and Nicaragua.

Tide coach Nick Saban has called the lineman ``as fine a person as you're ever going to be around - me or you or anyone else - in terms of his willingness to serve other people.''

Like Te'o, he says and does the right things.

Without profanity. ``He's never cursed,'' insists Alabama tailback Eddie Lacy. ``Ever.''

Adds right tackle D.J. Fluker: ``There is not a dark side'' to Jones.

Their accomplishments almost have to be divided into on the field and off the field for brevity's sake.

Te'o is the first player to ever get a clean sweep of the following litany of awards: Butkus, Nagurski, Lombardi, Bednarik, Maxwell, Lott and Walter Camp player of the year.

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said Te'o has responded to all that hardware by practicing harder than he had all season.

``For as talented a player he is, he's a better person,'' Diaco said, adding that his star defender is ``happy, full of life.''

``On a day where maybe as a coach you might be feeling a little down or maybe slightly distracted with the world's problems, Manti is easy to see, look at and see his face and immediately be energized,'' Diaco said. ``So that's just the kind of guy that he is.''

Te'o is an Academic All-American with a 3.324 GPA in design.

Te'o, a Mormon, showed his character when his girlfriend and grandmother both died within a few hours of each other. He had huge games against Michigan State and, the next week, against Michigan on the day his girlfriend was buried.

``Courageous, is one of the best words I can come up with to describe him,'' said Mickey Standiford, a member of the Mormon church in South Bend attended by Te'o, who is close with Standiford's family.

``To face those adversities and be able to still focus and have that determination, I think, to want to succeed for them. He wanted those games to be tributes to them. He didn't want it to be about him and the fact that he was out there doing it. It was more that he wanted to bring light to them. Courageous, determined, focused and just family is the most important thing to him.''

Jones won the Outland Trophy as a left tackle last season, the Rimington Award as the nation's top center in 2012 and the Campbell Trophy, the Heisman's academic equivalent.

He just finished graduate school in accounting.

``I just feel like I've been gifted with a mind that enjoys school and enjoys learning,'' Jones said. ``I wanted to leave with a master's degree. That was my goal the whole time.''

He made a strong impression on Rich Houston, director of Alabama's master of accountancy program. Houston taught Jones in advanced auditing in the fall of 2011, a discussion-heavy course that students call ``the current events class.''

``The class was at 8 in the morning,'' he said. ``He was always there, and he was the No. 1 participant in class in terms of both quantity and quality. And that includes having some fairly high-profile people in the accounting profession come into the class. He would ask great questions of those people, engage in conversation.

``Even if he wasn't an athlete, I'd be saying all the same things about him. Just what a really, genuinely good kid he is.''

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Tim Frazier

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Tim Frazier

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Tim Frazier's season...

Player: Tim Frazier

Position: Point guard

Age: 27

2017-18 salary: $2 million

2017-18 stats: 59 G, 14.2 mpg, 3.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 3.3 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.1 bpg, 39.5 FG%, 30.4 3P%, 76.7 FT%, 44.5 eFG%, 105 ORtg, 107 DRtg

Best game: 1/27 at Hawks - 4 points, 14 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks, 2-for-5 FG

Season review: The Wizards tabbed Tim Frazier to be their backup point guard nearly a year ago when they sent a second round pick to the New Orleans Pelicans on the eve of draft night. They viewed Frazier as the solution to their years-long search for a capable backup behind John Wall. Frazier had thrived as a replacement starter in New Orleans and the Wizards saw him as worth a draft pick, even though he had just one year left on his contract.

Frazier began the season as the primary backup point guard, but ultimately lost the job to Tomas Satoransky once Wall went out with a left knee injury. Frazier became the starter and Satoransky the backup, but through two weeks Satoransky outplayed him and became No. 2 on the depth chart once Wall returned. Then, when Wall went down for months late in the season, Satoransky started and Frazier backed him up.

Frazier never found consistency as he moved back and forth between roles. His minutes, points and assists averages were all career-lows.

The Wizards added competition to their roster for Frazier and Satoransky midseason, first by signing Ramon Sessions in March and then adding Ty Lawson just before the playoffs began. That led to Frazier being inactive for four of the Wizards' six postseason games.

All in all, it was a frustrating year for Frazier. He even had to deal with a broken nose and surgery to repair it after getting inadvertently kneed in the face by Bobby Portis in a game against the Bulls in February.

Frazier has been part of small group of Wizards players continuing to work out at the team facility this summer. He has been there along with Wall, Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith. That said, it does seem likely Frazier returns given how the Wizards used him this season. He was completely out of the rotation for extended periods of time.

Helping his cause in that regard is that the Wizards have his Bird rights, meaning they can re-sign him while going above the salary cap. They currently have five open roster spots and not much money to spend. Frazier could represent a cheap option and help them fill out their roster.

Potential to improve: Shooting, on-ball defense, consistency

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Markieff Morris, PF

Marcin Gortat, C

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

Tomas Satoransky, PG

Ian Mahinmi, C

Ty Lawson, PG

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