FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o found it "easy" to get past college football's award season and get focused on the BCS championship against Alabama.
No. 1 Notre Dame will play the second-ranked Crimson Tide on Monday night for the national title. On Thursday morning, Alabama's stars on offense and Notre Dame's defensive leaders spoke to reporters.
Te'o was the Heisman Trophy runner-up and won a bevy of other awards in mid-December, requiring him to travel around the country to various dinners and ceremonies. But Te'o said once he got back to his teammates, he was in his comfort zone.
In other words, football became about football again.
"When you're in the middle of football, nothing else matters," Te'o said.
Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco says that Te'o has worked harder in the last week of practice than he has all season.
"He, himself, has raised his game," Diaco said.
The Irish were headed to the practice field in South Florida for the first time Thursday afternoon, and coach Brian Kelly said he expected it to be a somewhat physical workout — which would indicate that it would be the last real tough session before the title game. Teams typically begin to taper their practices in the days before a game, particularly one of this magnitude.
Many players said being in South Florida made the championship game finally seem real.
"It has been a very anxious feeling, I would say," Notre Dame linebacker Danny Spond said. "Ever since the USC game and to finally be announced that we would be in this game, it has been an exciting time."
One of the concerns for the Irish in the final few days will be hydration. Temperatures were reaching the low 80s in South Florida on Thursday, about 55 degrees or so warmer than on Notre Dame's campus in South Bend, Ind.
The Irish have been practicing inside at home, which Kelly said would help the acclimation process to the heat and humidity of the Miami area.
"It's definitely important to adjust," Notre Dame defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said.