Following explosive report, ND says Te'o a 'Catfish' victim

868555.png

Following explosive report, ND says Te'o a 'Catfish' victim

Lennay Kekua, purported to be Manti Te'o's girlfriend, was a hoax. Whether Te'o was a victim or perpetrator of the hoax, though, remains up for debate.

Deadspin.com's Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey originally published a report Wednesday afternoon detailing how Kekua, who was thought to have passed away from Leukemia within 24 hours of Te'o's grandmother in September, never existed. The article adds a friend of the person behind Kekua was "80 percent sure" Te'o was part of the hoax.

Notre Dame officials painted a different picture later on Wednesday.

"This appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators," Notre Dame Assistant Vice President Dennis Brown said in a statement.

Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick explained after conversations with Te'o and through the findings of a private investigative firm hired by the university, he had concluded Te'o was the victim of a "Catfish" scam.

Swarbrick presented this timeline of events:

- Sometime in 2009, Te'o and Kekua "met" online, with Te'o responding to an advance from the Kekua.

- Over the next three years, Te'o attempted to meet Kekua face-to-face, but never did. "As part of the hoax, several meetings were set up where Lennay never showed, including some in Hawaii," Swarbrick said.

- Also over the next three years, Te'o and Kekua would frequently talk on the phone, and even sleep with the phone on next to their heads.

- Earlier in 2012, Kekua purportedly was in a car accident, and it was discovered she had leukemia. In September, a few days after Notre Dame beat Purdue and around the time of the death of Te'o's grandmother, Te'o was led to believe Kekua has passed away. Swarbrick explains: "(The perpetrators) understood, given the extraordinary nature of this man, the more trouble she was in car accident, diagnosis of leukemia, failing health the more engaged he would become, the more focused he would become, and the more dedicated he would become, and that's exactly what happened here."

- On Dec. 6, while Te'o was in Orlando for the ESPN College Football Awards Show, he received a call from a number he thought to be Kekua's. Te'o answered the phone, and the voice was that of the person he believe was Kekua -- only he also believed she had died three months earlier. That person told Te'o she was, in fact, not dead and attempted to re-start the relationship.

- On Dec. 26, after conferring with his family in Hawaii, Te'o informed coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco of his situation. Swarbrick was quickly notified of the situation and set up a meeting with Te'o on Dec. 27, when the linebacker returned to campus.

- On Dec. 27, Swarbrick met with Te'o for an hour and 45 minutes, and followed that up with another meeting on Dec. 28. From there, Swarbrick shared the information he had gathered with university officials and decided to hire a private investigative firm to look into the situation.

- Not via Swarbrick, but on Jan. 3 in South Florida, Te'o was asked about the tragedy he had dealt with this season, with the question specifically mentioning his girlfriend's death. He responded:

"I think whenever you're in football, it takes your mind off a lot of things," he said. "You know, this team is very special to me, and the guys on it have always been there for me, through the good times and the bad times. I rarely have a quiet time to myself because I always have somebody calling me, asking, do you want to go to the movies.

"Coach is always calling me asking me, "Are you okay? Do you need anything?" I have three roommates, Zeke (Motta), Carlo (Calabrese) and Robby Toma, who are always yelling at each other, who's going to play Call of Duty. I'm rarely by myself, and that's how I like it. I'm always around my guys, always around my family."

- On Jan. 4, Swarbrick received a report from the private investigative firm.

- On Jan. 5, Swarbrick shared that information with Te'o's parents. After conferring with Brian and Ottilia Te'o, Swarbrick was under the impression the family was prepared to release what happened to Te'o to the public sometime in the week of Jan. 26.

A few questions still remain, which will be directed at Te'o when he speaks on the matter -- his agent, Tom Condon, told ESPN.com that'll happen soon.

Among them: Why did Te'o and his family say he met Kekua on campus at Stanford in 2009? Did Te'o ever attempt to video chat with Kekua, as many of those in online relationships do? What was the nature of Te'o's relationship with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, reported by Deadspin to be the man behind Kekua and someone with whom it appears Te'o has interacted on various social media platforms and even in person?

Furthermore, why did former Arizona Cardinals fullback Reagan Mauia tell ESPN.com he met Kekua and insist she exists?

It's all part of a bizarre story that, perhaps, will gain some clarity once Te'o speaks on it beyond the statement he released Wednesday following the Deadspin report. That statement confirmed that Kekua's existence was a hoax, and reads:

"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, Teo said. 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.

It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother's death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life.

I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been.

In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was. Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I'm looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL draft.

The events of Wednesday were a stunning turn for a player who seemed to have built an infallible legacy at Notre Dame. Te'o won more awards in a single season than any other college football player ever had and finished second in Heisman Trophy voting with the most votes of any previous runner-up.

He graced the cover of Sports Illustrated after Notre Dame's emotional win over Michigan, in which students brought leis en masse to Notre Dame Stadium to support Te'o after the deaths of his grandmother and now proven to be non-existent girlfriend.

Expect more to come out about this story in the coming days and weeks, but for now, we await they next turn in an unexpected string of events.

Correction: The ESPN Awards Show was incorrectly dated as Dec. 7. It occurred Dec. 6.

Is Brian Kelly out at Notre Dame if new QB Brandon Wimbush’s rocket arm doesn’t deliver for Irish in 2017?

Is Brian Kelly out at Notre Dame if new QB Brandon Wimbush’s rocket arm doesn’t deliver for Irish in 2017?

A 4-8 season in 2016 has put Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly firmly on the hot seat as he heads into his eighth season with the Fighting Irish.

In response to a tumultuous season, Kelly made major changes to his staff this past offseason by hiring new coordinators on both sides of the ball.

Mike Elko, who previously led Wake Forest to an FBS Top-40 total defense ranking, was hired by Kelly to be Notre Dame's defensive coordinator, and Chip Long — former offensive coordinator at Memphis — will now be in charge of the Fighting Irish offense.

However, the biggest change and arguably the No. 1 factor in Kelly's long-term future in South Bend, will be the person under center in 2017.

Barring an unforeseen circumstance, junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush — a former Rivals four-star recruit — will lead Notre Dame out of the tunnel in Week 1 vs. Temple.

Wimbush has only thrown five passes during his time at Notre Dame, but showed what kind of talent he has with a 58-yard rushing touchdown as a freshman in 2015.

Wimbush was one of the focal points of a recent Rivals story regarding quarterbacks who will be facing pressure in 2017

Earlier this week, Rivals Recruiting Director Mike Farrell gave his scouting report on the Notre Dame quarterback.


I’m a big fan of Wimbush but that hasn’t always been the case. It’s not that I didn’t like him when I first scouted him before his high school career took off, but what I saw way back when was a kid who had a rocket arm and zero touch. But throughout his high school career he improved every time I saw him, showed much more than just a strong arm and flashed impressive poise for his age.

I’ve seen very limited action when it comes to Wimbush in college as he hasn’t played often and his spring game performance had ups and downs, but I believe in this kid’s ability. He can extend the play, has that great arm and just needs to get comfortable in the Notre Dame offense and make sure he doesn’t try to use that cannon to fit the ball into tight spots. I can see him having some growing pains this season, but as he gets more comfortable and learns to take what the defense gives him while keeping defenses off balance with his athletic ability, I think he’ll finish strong.

Will Wimbush's rocket arm be enough to save Kelly from the hot seat?

That's still to be determined.

Two views of Notre Dame's 2017 signing day class

Two views of Notre Dame's 2017 signing day class

After a handful of late additions sent in their national letters of intent to the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, Notre Dame on Wednesday announced its 21-player recruiting class of 2017. There are a couple of ways to view the end of what was a volatile recruiting period for the Irish:

The glass-half-full take:

Two and a half months after wrapping up an embarrassing 4-8 season, Notre Dame's 2017 recruiting class ranks 11th by 247 Sports, 13th by Rivals, 13th by Scout and 16th by ESPN. In fact, Notre Dame actually ranks higher this year in 247 Sports' composite rankings (11th) than it did in 2016 (15th), when the Irish were coming off a 10-win season and a Fiesta Bowl berth. 

Nearly scraping together a top-10 class after going 4-8 and losing four assistant coaches in Mike Sanford, Mike Denbrock, Scott Booker and Keith Gilmore is an impressive feat (Greg Hudson was only an interim defensive coordinator, and Brian VanGorder was far from a reliable recruiter). Plenty of kudos should be extended the way of recruiting coordinator/defensive line coach Mike Elston for heading up the program's efforts to keep what began as a pretty strong class from disintegrating. 

Additionally, coach Brian Kelly pointed to the work of the 15 verbally-committed players who stuck with their pledges even as Notre Dame sustained a string of confounding losses and significant coaching turnover. 

"We couldn't be where we are today unless we had 15 student-athletes that were committed to Notre Dame from the start to the finish," Kelly said. "Really during a very difficult season, this group of 15 really had to endure the things that would occur out there in recruiting during a very difficult season. Other schools reminding them about a very difficult season that we had. Then there was them sticking together because of why they wanted to come to Notre Dame."

Five of those players enrolled early — tight end Brock Wright, offensive linemen Robert Gainsay and Aaron Banks, running back C.J. Holmes and safety Isaiah Robertson, all of whom 247 sports rated as four-star recruits — and guys like tight end Cole Kmet, quarterback Avery Davis and offensive linemen Joshua Lugg never wavered, too. 

That those players stuck together helped Notre Dame maintain a good base after the NCAA-mandated dead period lifted after the College Football Playoff title game last month, and new coaches Brian Polian, Mike Elko, Clark Lea, Chip Long and DelVaughn Alexander were able to bring in six late additions to the class: safety Jordan Genmark Heath, wide receiver Jafar Armstrong, kicker Jonathan Doerer, defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and defensive lineman Kofi Wardlow. 

Armstrong, Tagovailoa and Wardlow all filled red-line positions of need, while adding more players to increase the pool of talent available to Elko is hardly a bad thing. 

But the optimistic viewpoint here is the deck was stacked against Notre Dame in recruiting, and they actually turned out a pretty good hand thanks to a complete effort from everyone in the athletic department. 

"Every weekend, Jack Swarbrick, our athletic director, met with our recruits," Kelly said. "That's unusual. I don't think that happens everywhere that your athletic director makes himself able to meet with recruits.

"In a lot of instances he had to be there to support our football program and talk to recruits about where this program is and where it's going. There are questions when a family comes on campus. He reminded them about the investment we were making in staff and what we were doing for the present and for the future. So having Jack's involvement in this was absolutely crucial to get to where we are."

Now, for the glass-half-empty take:

Notre Dame had six players decommit, five of whom were at positions of need (defensive line, cornerback, wide receiver). Only four-star defensive end Robert Beal jumped ship before Notre Dame's fall tailspin was underway, and four of those six decommitting players were four-star recruits. 

Notre Dame wound up replacing them with six late commitments, but five of those late-deciding players were three-star recruits and one (Doerner) was a two-star player. That's a good recipe for slipping from having a top-10 class to one on the outside looking in. 

A common lament among fans is that Notre Dame has struggled to sign five-star recruits lately, and while it's true the Irish haven't done that since 2013 — Jaylon Smith and Max Redfield, as rated by 247 Sports — that's not as big an issue as it may seem. Just look at the disparity in college success between Smith and Redfield as a front-and-center example of how a five-star rating doesn't guarantee success in college. Signing more four/five-star recruits than two/three-star ones is far more important (more on that in a bit). 

But the bigger issue with Notre Dame's 2017 class perhaps has more to do with its 2016 class. Notre Dame lost ace recruiters Tony Alford and Kerry Cooks after the 2014 season and re-worked its entire recruiting operation in response, which led to little oomph in a 2016 class that, based on the prior season, should've been much better than it was. 

Last year's group could ultimately build a legacy as a less-heralded crop of recruits that went on to success — the strong debuts of 247 Sports three-stars in cornerback Julian Love and wide receiver Kevin Stepherson were good starts — but there's a long way to go there. 

If 2016 was supposed to be a more transitional recruiting class, though, then 2017 represents a massive missed opportunity. Going 4-8 with all the right recruiting machinations in place is a glaring shortcoming for the future of the program — even a nine-win season could've allowed Notre Dame to hang on to some of those four-star players it lost and earn a top-10 class ranking. 

More importantly than a top-10 class, though, is pulling in more four- and five-star recruits than two and-three star ones. Notre Dame didn't do that in 2017 (10 four-star recruits out of 21) or 2016 (10 four-star recruits out of 23) after hitting that benchmark each of the last three recruiting cycles. That's a worrying trend given the correlation between signing a majority of four- and five-star recruits and winning a championship

The last two recruiting cycles have been, in that context, significant disappointment. While strong classes in 2014 and 2015 could prop up a playoff run as soon as this fall, the future of the program may not be on solid footing even if the Irish engineer a major turnaround in 2017. Next year's class likely will be critical to the long-term success of the program under Kelly, presuming he's still around to usher in the next group of recruits in February of 2018.