Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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January 16, 2013

Manti Te’o’s touching tale was a hoax; Notre Dame officials say linebacker was a victim

GOSHEN — The season of destiny for the Notre Dame football program has gone from South Bend, to South Beach to just plain south.

A bizarre hoax involving All-American linebacker Manti Te’o and his late girlfriend who apparently never existed, is the latest turmoil to befall the Fighting Irish since an embarrassing 42-14 BCS National Championship Game loss to Alabama Jan. 7 in Miami.

A day after that loss Head Coach Brian Kelly interviewed with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, putting his future with Notre Dame in doubt before he announced Saturday he would stay with the Irish.

Just when things seemed to settle down in South Bend, a Deadspin.com report released Wednesday afternoon indicated that Te’o’s well documented relationship with Stanford student Lennay Kekua, was an elaborate hoax and Kekua never even existed.

Notre Dame officials insisted Wednesday evening that Te’o was in fact the victim of the “sad and very cruel deception,” in relation to the alleged death of Kekua in California. Te’o and Notre Dame indicated Kekua had died from leukemia early during the 2012 college football season.

In a statement Wednesday, Te’o said that he did have a long-distance relationship with Kekua, but the two had never met.

“This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online,” Te’o said in the statement. “We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her.

“To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating. ... In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious.”

Te’o’s relationship with Kekua became one of the storylines of Notre Dame’s special and unlikely 12-0 regular season. Much media attention, both locally and nationally, was focused on the fact that Te’o’s grandmother, Annette Santiago, and Kekua, died the same day, Sept. 11. The media attention focused primarily on how Te’o was responding to the dual losses, both on and off the football field. It was never indicated that the two had never met in person.

That Saturday night, Sept. 15, the Fighting Irish traveled to East Lansing, Mich, to play Michigan State. The Irish defeated the Spartans, 20-3. Te’o had seven solo tackles that night, five assists, a fumble recovery, and two passes broken up.

Television cameras as time ran out focused on an emotional Te’o, who hails from Hawaii, on a knee on the sidelines, being comforted by teammates as the emotion of the past week seemed to be overwhelming him.

The next week against Michigan most of the 80,000 fans at Notre Dame Stadium wore Hawaiian leis to show support for Te’o.

Over the course of the season, Teo’s dual losses became an ever-increasing part of a storyline that vaulted him into consideration for the Heisman Trophy. Te’o ended up finishing second in the Heisman Trophy balloting to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The Heisman is college football’s premier individual award.

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