When he anguished and prayed over that decision, did he ever expect to be playing for a national championship, or be feted in Times Square as a Heisman Trophy finalist?
"Not in a million years," Te'o said two hours before the Heisman ceremony began, down the street from the Best Buy Theater at the Marriott Marquis. "When I decided to come back, it was just to get better, improve my own game, just enjoy the experiences and memories I could create with my team and my family. I never thought I'd create memories in New York, let alone create memories on Jan. 7 in Miami."
But now that he's here in Times Square?
"Obviously, I want to win," he said. "I didn't come here to get second. I want to win."
As for nerves, Te'o -- who has done nothing but win trophies all week, but is a bit of a long shot to win tonight -- said, "For some reason, I'm not nervous at all. I'm just excited. I'm just happy to be here. Back home, everybody's watching. I find joy in that."
As much as anything, Te'o just wants to get back home and return his focus to football, and to BCS title game foe Alabama. On Friday night, Te'o eschewed the city tour that the other finalists went on and holed up in an NBC office, watching the live feed of the Notre Dame team awards ceremony back in South Bend. When he was named MVP, he was able to give a speech and see his teammates' reaction to it on a monitor off to his left. He said the most poignant moment was the senior film, which included the seniors' parents talking about their sons.
So as remarkable as this week has been for Te'o, he can't wait to return to the grind, with 30 days left until the national title game.
"I can't wait," he said. "To be honest with you, that's the thing I can't wait for. I can't wait to get with my team and get with my guys again. I miss my guys."
Some other comments from the session:
Te'o on front-runner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M: "He's always on ESPN making plays running around like a human video game."
Manziel on Te'o: "He's the heart and soul of that defense and a big reason they're 12-0."
Kansas State QB Collin Klein on the differences between Manhattan, Kan., and Manhattan Island. "It's a little different world than Manhattan, Kan., no doubt about it."
Te'o on if he's watched any film on Alabama yet: "No, not yet. Haven't seen any Alabama film yet. They haunt my dreams, though. I can see their plays in my head."