NEW YORK – The 2012 Heisman Trophy has provided a showcase for two major universities steeped in tradition and two young men steeped in the values of humility and family.

In 2012, the University of Notre Dame once again proved that the Irish can fight as they so often did under Knute Rockne, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz, propelling star linebacker Manti Te’o to the Heisman finals and the team to a national championship game next month against Alabama.

Meanwhile, down in Texas, the A&M Aggies returned to prominence in their first year in the Southeastern Conference, led by freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, a Heisman finalist and incidentally, the only QB to hand the Alabama Crimson Tide a loss in 2012.

WND asked both athletes how they have managed to remain grounded throughout the year despite all the pressures, both on the field and off.

For Te’o, the son of Mormon missionaries, who hails from Laie, Hawaii, the year was personally trying, having to cope with the deaths of both his grandmother and girlfriend … just hours apart.

His girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, succumbed to cancer earlier in the year, and after returning home to attend her funeral, Te’o reflected: “I’ve never felt so strong. Something my girlfriend always stressed to me was being humble, and if anything, this experience has truly humbled me.”

Manziel of A&M, from the small town of Kerrville, Texas, population 20,000, is the youngest ever Heisman finalist, with a career just starting. Affectionately known as “Johnny Football,” Manziel said his freshman year at A&M was a like a dream.

“I’m just a small town kid,” he told reporters. “It’s a great feeling knowing people are looking up to me. Being in New York for the Heisman makes me feel like a kid again.”

A small town kid who has kept his family No. 1 remarked Te’o of Notre Dame: “[Manziel] loves his family. He’s always with them. They are here in New York, his sister is here. Even with all the attention he is getting, he always finds time to just sit and talk with his family.”

Success to both meant learning to compete as part of a team, rather than an individual, something that often seems foreign in today’s climate.

Te’o added: “It’s been crazy for me and my brothers back in South Bend. You come into the season thinking, ‘I am going to be the best I can. I will shoot for the stars, and if I fall short, I will land on the clouds.’ I shot for the stars, and so did my brothers in South Bend.”

But, there could be only one winner.

In close balloting that reflected the quality of the top two candidates, the 2012 Heisman Trophy made history going to its first freshman, Johnny Manziel.

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