He sounded happy. Relieved. And not just a little fired up.
"I just felt that burn," he said when asked what it felt like to hear someone else's name called. "I can't really describe it. I just felt that burn -- hey, gotta get better."
Te'o called it "motivation." Motivation for the 30 days that lay ahead, as top-ranked Notre Dame prepares to face No. 2 Alabama on Jan. 7 in the BCS national championship game. That's something on which Te'o can finally focus, when he lands in South Bend early Monday morning after taking the red-eye home from southern California, where he attended the Lott IMPACT award ceremony -- the last of eight trophies for which he was a finalist.
"It's motivation," Te'o said. "I always wanted to be the best. I just use that as motivation to be the best I can be. Obviously, I have a lot of work to do. I'm just excited to get back and get things cracking. ... Go back home, see all my brothers, get back into the groove of things. Get the pads back on, smack around some guys, study a lot of film. That's what I love about all this time, I have weeks and weeks to study film. Usually, I'll have about three days to study film, but now I've got three weeks to study film."
Some of Te'o's teammates -- including nose guard Louis Nix III, whom Te'o told a national TV audience would get his Heisman vote if he had one, and DaVaris Daniels -- took to Twitter to express their displeasure with the results. It was motivation for them, too.
"That's family, man," Te'o said. "That's what families are all about. And that's what our team is all about. ... They all just blew up my phone just now."
Te'o took some solace in the fact that he earned more points -- 1,706, including 321 first-place votes -- than any strictly defensive player ever had. And while Irish coach Brian Kelly had said that if Te'o didn't win the Heisman, it should just be recalibrated as an offensive award, Te'o disagreed that a defensive player can never win the award, pointing to the sheer volume of votes for him. And he laughingly apologized to the masses back home in Hawaii, who gathered for a huge watch party.
But more than anything, Te'o was eager -- excited and invigorated, even -- to get off the awards circuit, and get back to the grind.
"I did the best I could do, and I'm happy with that," Te'o said. "I wish I could have came first, obviously, but it gives me motivation and gives me fire to come back and get better. Obviously, what I did wasn't good enough. And I felt I could do better, and that's exactly what's going to happen."