Story of Te'o girlfriend hoax may never come to definitive end

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Story of Te'o girlfriend hoax may never come to definitive end

Updated: Jan. 20, 10:40 a.m.

It's been three days since Deadspin first reported Manti Te'o's girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, was nothing more than the product of an elaborate hoax. Since then, we've heard from Notre Dame, those close to Te'o, those close to Ronaiah Tuiasosopo -- the man behind Kekua's persona -- and, late Friday night, Te'o himself.

There's much more information on the table than there was Wednesday. But there's still a large gray area inside this story, and it likely won't go away.

Te'o's interview with Jeremy Schapp Friday answered a few questions. It brought to light more aspects of the saga that require an explanation -- for example, why did the direct messages that purportedly show Tuiasosopo confessing to Te'o about the hoax initially show a message that's 217 characters long (Twitter's limit is 140 characters)? ESPN has since updated the image file to show messages that fit Twitter's limit.

Furthermore, why didn't the private firm Notre Dame hired extensively interview Te'o as part of its investigation? Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio provides reasoning why the investigation wouldn't talk to the perpetrators of the Kekua hoax, but that doesn't explain why Te'o wasn't directly part of the inquiry.

But enough with the questions, since chances are, they won't be answered. Schapp said Friday it appeared as if Te'o had unburdened himself with the interview, and there's probably a decent chance he won't speak on the matter again.

Related: Te'o breaks silence, but only raises more questions

Te'o may be bombarded by questions about it at the NFL combine, or after he's hitched with a pro team in late April. But he could easily say he doesn't want to discuss the topic, and no amount of prying could get anymore information out of him if he's personally moved on from the Kekua hoax.

But he'll have to field plenty of questions in private as NFL teams vet him as a potential draft pick. Te'o hardly is done with the questioning, but he may be done with it in the public eye.

Notre Dame, too, won't speak on the matter anymore. Brian Kelly may be asked about it at his next press conference -- which, right now, looks like Feb. 6 for national signing day -- and perhaps defensive coordinator Bob Diaco will field a question or two down the road as well.

It doesn't sound as if Tuiasosopo will discuss it anytime soon, either. Perhaps hearing from the person who pretended to be Kekua would advance the story, but that person hasn't come forward yet.

Most of those secondhand accounts, save the friend of Tuiasosopo's cited by Deadspin as being "80 percent" sure Te'o was in on the hoax, have come out in support of the Notre Dame linebacker. Plenty of friends and teammates have told various media outlets Te'o was duped and had no hand in the hoax, and a friend of Tuiasosopo's told ESPN.com Te'o wasn't involved as well.

In fact, right as this article was published, ESPN.com ran a story showing a Facebook correspondence Te'o had with a friend showing the linebacker thought Kekua may be a "prank" in 2010.

Related: Samardzija, Te'o: The spotlight comes with the territory

When the Deadspin story broke Wednesday, the biggest question regarded how much Te'o knew. There's now enough evidence in Te'o's favor that would indicate he indeed was duped, although it's impossible to say that with 100 percent certainty. It's logical to believe Te'o wasn't involved, but it's also not completely illogical to continue searching for evidence that he was in on it.

A definitive ending to this story would certainly be satisfying. Cliffhangers, inevitably, keep us coming back for more, and gray areas foster speculation.

Alabama left no doubt they were the best team in college football on Jan. 7. This story won't have an ending as convincing as a 42-14 final score.

For such a bizarre, fascinating tale that managed to wrestle away the national spotlight for a few days, that's not the endgame we're looking for. But it's the one we'll likely get.

Notre Dame unit preview: Re-loading on the offensive line

Notre Dame unit preview: Re-loading on the offensive line

With the start of Notre Dame preseason camp approaching fast, we’re looking at what to expect from each unit that’ll take the field in primetime Sept. 4 against Texas at Darrell K. Royal Stadium. Today, we wrap up the offense with Harry Hiestand's offensive line. 

Depth Chart

Left tackle

1. Mike McGlinchey (Redshirt junior)
2. Jimmy Byrne (Redshirt sophomore)
3A. Liam Eichenberg (Freshman)
3B. Parker Boudreaux (Freshman)
3C. Tommy Kraemer (Freshman)

Left guard

1. Quenton Nelson (Redshirt sophomore)
2. Trevor Ruhland (Redshirt freshman)

Center

1. Sam Mustipher (Redshirt sophomore)
2. Tristen Hoge (Redshirt freshman)

Right guard

1A. Colin McGovern (Redshirt junior)
1B. Hunter Bivin (Redshirt junior)
2. Tristen Hoge (Redshirt freshman)

Right tackle

1. Alex Bars (Redshirt sophomore)
2. Mark Harrell (Graduate student)
3A. Liam Eichenberg (Freshman)
3B. Parker Boudreaux (Freshman)
3C. Tommy Kraemer (Freshman)

Four of Notre Dame’s five offensive line spots were solidified coming out of spring practice: Left tackle (McGlinchey), left guard (Nelson), center (Mustipher) and right tackle (Bars). 

That leaves the McGovern-Bivin battle as the only remaining question on the Irish offensive line heading into preseason practice. Both are entering their fourth years in the program, but neither have started a game at the college level. 

McGovern was slowed by a concussion during spring practice but is finally strong enough to compete for a starting position, Kelly said back in March. Bivin is a natural tackle who offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said during spring practice operates well in close quarters, though, making him a decent candidate to slide inside at guard. Both players are probably on relatively even footing heading into August. 

There’s a decent amount of flexibility behind the five starters Notre Dame runs with against Texas. Harrell can play center, guard or tackle, while Hoge could either back up Mustipher at center or McGovern/Bivin/Nelson at guard, too. 

Biggest question: How good can the left side be?

With Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin off to the NFL, and Steve Elmer taking a job in Washington D.C., Notre Dame’s most experienced offensive linemen are McGlinchey (14 starts) and Nelson (11 starts). But this doesn’t feel like a complete rebuild of the Irish offensive line, partly because Hiestand has consistently developed strong groups up front. 

The other part of that feeling is that the 6-foot-7, 310 pound McGlinchey and 6-foot-5, 325 pound Nelson showed last year plenty of reasons to believe they’ll lead the next wave of strong Irish offensive linemen. Both have garnered some future first-round draft pick chatter and will be given every opportunity to prove themselves. Expect Notre Dame’s offensive gameplan to frequently focus running plays to the left side of the O-line this fall. 

Youthful impact

Notre Dame has only played one true freshman offensive lineman in the Hiestand era, and that was Elmer, who enrolled early nine months before he filled in for an injured Watt in 2013. So it’s unlikely that Eichenberg, Kraemer or Boudreaux — all of whom were four-star recruits — will see the field this fall. 

Boudreaux, who had a health scare this summer when he came down with viral meningitis, is probably the most likely one of the three freshmen to move inside to guard down the road. If McGlinchey turns pro after this season — a few observers have tagged him as a potential 2017 first-round draft pick — there will be an opening at tackle that Eichenberg/Kraemer/Boudreaux could battle for next year, with the rest of 2016’s starting offensive line on track to return. 

They said it
 
“I’m depressed.” — Harry Hiestand, joking about not having a Martin (Nick or Zack) on his offensive line for the first time since coming to Notre Dame before the 2012 season.  

Notre Dame unit preview: Searching for the next go-to WR

Notre Dame unit preview: Searching for the next go-to WR

With the start of Notre Dame preseason camp approaching fast, we’re looking at what to expect from each unit that’ll take the field in primetime Sept. 4 against Texas at Darrell K. Royal Stadium. 

Depth Chart

W (Boundary)

1. Torii Hunter Jr. (Redshirt junior)
2A. Miles Boykin (Redshirt freshman)
2B. Alize Jones (Sophomore)
3. Chase Claypool (Freshman)

Z (Slot)

1A. C.J. Sanders (Sophomore)
1B. Corey Holmes (Redshirt sophomore)
2. Torii Hunter Jr. (Redshirt junior)

X (Field)

1. Equanimeous St. Brown (Sophomore)
2A. Torii Hunter Jr. (Redshirt junior)
2B. Kevin Stepherson (Freshman)
3. Javon McKinley (Freshman)

Hunter has the ability to play all three receiver positions, which is why he’s listed as the “backup” at the Z and X. He’ll probably take most of his reps, though, at the W, where Corey Robinson was in line to play before he retired due to suffering multiple concussions. 

Despite only catching 28 passes for 363 yards last year, Hunter is Notre Dame’s leading returning receiver, which is more a nod to the production lost from Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle. But Hunter took command of Notre Dame’s wide receivers during spring practice — despite barely getting any sleep due to his football, baseball and academic workload — and emerged as an offensive leader in March and April. 

Outside of Hunter, there’s plenty of young, untapped potential in this group. Coach Brian Kelly has raved about St. Brown from the day he set foot on campus, and Notre Dame believes his combination of blazing speed and good size (6-foot-4, 205) will make his a dynamic receiving threat as soon as this fall. Sanders flashed his playmaking ability by returning a kick and a punt for a touchdown last year, though surgery on his hip flexor knocked him out of spring practice and could slow him during preseason camp. 

Holmes and Stepherson both impressed at times during spring practice, too, and are set up to carve out roles in the Irish offense. And Jones is the wild card here — he worked a bit at the W during spring practice and his athletic 6-foot-4, 240 pound frame could create some matchup nightmares if he slides over from tight end. 

Biggest question: Who becomes DeShone Kizer/Malik Zaire’s go-to target?

Fuller became a get-out-of-jail free card almost immediately for Kizer last year, with that 39-yard game-winning heave at Virginia sparking a rock-solid season for the new Irish quarterback. Brown, too, used his savvy skills to make some big catches, like his touchdown at Fenway Park against Boston College. 

But with both of those guys gone, Kizer or Zaire will need to figure out who that reliable pass-catcher is. The good news is Notre Dame has had one every year of the Kelly era, from Michael Floyd to Tyler Eifert to T.J. Jones to Fuller. 

Hunter is the most experienced one of the bunch, though St. Brown or Jones could very well emerge as that guy, too. But given Notre Dame’s track record, wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock deserves the benefit of the doubt here. 

Youthful impact

McKinley and Claypool both were four-star members of Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class. There are some questions about whether or not Claypool, who was listed at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds on signing day, could someday move to tight end, but for now, he’ll get a shot as a receiver, probably on the boundary. 

Stepherson, a three-star recruit, was roundly praised by coaches and teammates for how quickly he picked up the Irish route concepts and offense during spring practice, and his ability to catch the ball at a full sprint over the middle makes him a candidate to contribute as a freshman. 

Notre Dame hasn’t shied away form playing freshmen receivers in the past, and without much experience in this group, there could be opportunities for all three first-year players to get on the field this fall. 

They said it

“There’s a lot to be gained from playing baseball, but you have to be a special individual, especially at this level. I think the gains are competitiveness, discipline and the maturity that he shows and his ability to handle it.” — Brian Kelly on Torii Hunter Jr., who was drafted and signed by the Los Angeles Angels this summer

Notre Dame unit preview: Is Alize Jones primed for a breakout at tight end?

Notre Dame unit preview: Is Alize Jones primed for a breakout at tight end?

With the start of Notre Dame preseason camp approaching fast, we’re looking at what to expect from each unit that’ll take the field in primetime Sept. 4 against Texas at Darrell K. Royal Stadium. 

Depth Chart

1A. Durham Smythe (Redshirt junior)
1B. Alize Jones (Sophomore)
2A. Tyler Luatua (Junior)
2B. Nic Weishar (Redshirt sophomore)
3. Jacob Matuska (Redshirt junior)

Smythe’s Week 2 injury against Virginia thinned this group quite a bit last year. As a group, Notre Dame’s tight ends only totaled 20 receptions for 233 yards and one touchdown (which came when Smythe scored on a fake field goal against Virginia). 

But with Smythe healthy, Jones feeling more comfortable and a dearth of experience at receiver, Scott Booker’s group should be relied on more in Notre Dame’s passing game this fall. The return of Luatua, who was welcomed back to the team this summer after initially deciding to transfer prior to spring practice, will help Notre Dame’s running efforts behind the physical 255-pound California native. 

Weishar could develop into a factor, too, as he enters his third year in the program. The Marist alum has solid receiving skills that could play well this fall, especially in the red zone. 

Biggest question: Is Alize Jones ready to break out? 

Jones accounted for most of Notre Dame’s tight end production last year (13 catches and 190 yards) but wasn’t satisfied with his first year on campus. It was an eye-opening experience for him: “I didn’t take enough time and I don’t think I took it too serious last year,” Jones said during spring practice. 

But even through some of that first-year turbulence, Jones showed glimpses of the outstanding athleticism and receiving skills that made him a sought-after recruit out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. His 45-yard catch in the fourth quarter against Temple set up DeShone Kizer’s game-winning toss to Will Fuller, and he also had a 37-yard reception against UMass an a 35-yarder against USC. 

Whether Jones stays at tight end is another question. Notre Dame tried him out at its “W” receiver position this spring, and if he winds up sticking there, he could follow the Devin Funchess-like career arc plenty of Notre Dame fans prophesied when he signed with the Irish in February of 2015. But however the 6-foot-4, 240 pound Jones is used, he’s primed to develop into a key part of Notre Dame’s offense this fall. 

Youthful impact

Notre Dame didn’t sign a tight end in its 2016 recruiting class, but has two highly-touted players verbally committed to its class of 2017. Both Brock Wright (Cypress, Texas) and Cole Kmet (Arlington Heights, Ill.) are rated by Rivals as four-star recruits. 

They said it

“I know what it’s like to play Clemson and Ohio State and teams like that, playing against elite guys. Now going into my sophomore year, I’ve already done it. It’s just getting comfortable with everything, which I am. So I really feel like all the pieces are coming together.” — Alize Jones