Interview sheds light on Te'o's relationship with Tuiasosopo

977865.png

Interview sheds light on Te'o's relationship with Tuiasosopo

One of the central unanswered questions surrounding the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax is the linebacker's relationship with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man reported by Deadspin as the mastermind behind the fake persona of Lennay Kekua.

While Te'o didn't speak on the matter Thursday, his great uncle Alema joined Salt Lake City radio station 1280 The Zone and, in a 33-minute discussion, elaborated on Te'o's meeting with Tuiasosopo in Los Angeles prior to Notre Dame's regular-season finale against USC.

Alema Te'o said he met Tuiasosopo in a Los Angeles hotel lobby and quickly felt something was off. Te'o runs a football camp in American Samoa, which Tuiasosopo said he had a hand in planning -- a statement which, according to Te'o, was not the case.

"If hes telling me that he was doing my job, then where the hell was I?" Te'o said.

Te'o detailed how Tuiasosopo had with him a 9-year-old girl called Pookah, which jives with a TMZ report involving a separate meeting with Tuiasosopo and a child referred to as Pookah. Te'o said his great-nephew was "mesmerized" by Pookah and was led to believe she was a cousin of Kekua, when in fact she was one of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo's sisters, according to the elder Te'o.

Alema Te'o also said Manti Te'o had previously talked on the phone with Pookah while Kekua was purportedly still alive but too tired to talk.

When one of Alema Te'o's nieces attempted to talk with Pookah, she -- according to Te'o -- didn't speak, only nodding or shaking her head while Tuiasosopo stood over her with both his hands on her shoulders.

Te'o detailed how Tuiasosopo said he was hoping to raise money for a friend of Kekua's, who also had leukemia and attended Stanford, so that person could put herself through college. That hope was characterized as a "dying wish" of Kekua's, according to Te'o.

Te'o said Tuiasosopo continually talked up a charity event for his foundation, and believed at the time Tuiasosopo was attempting to align himself with Te'o to gain notoriety for his foundation.

Te'o minced no words when referring to Tuiasosopo multiple times during the segment, saying: "Ronaiah Tuiasosopo is a liar, he concocted the whole thing, he misrepresented whatever program that he was trying to get across to Manti, and shoot, he lied every step of the way. I dont feel its beyond him to hire somebody or bring somebody in to play the role of Lennay to get Manti to buy into this deal."

Still, some questions remain. Alema Te'o believed Manti Te'o and Tuiasosopo had been in contact a few times on Twitter and Facebook -- a claim supported by Deadspin's report -- but the meeting in Los Angeles was the pair's first face-to-face meeting. In one of Te'o's posts on Twitter, he urged Tuiasosopo to meet him Hawaii.

Te'o also said his family has many friends in the Tuiasosopo family, but only has a problem with one -- Ronaiah. Alema Te'o alerted Brian Te'o -- Manti's father -- of his suspicious regarding Tuiasosopo not long after their meeting, which was prior to Notre Dame's game against USC.

Alema Te'o also provided a different timeline of events than spelled out by Notre Dame. He said Manti Te'o received a call from the number he thought to be Kekua on Dec. 26, not Dec. 6 as said by Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick. But Te'o then said his great nephew didn't want to blow himself up during college football's awards week, so perhaps he has the dates wrong.

What's interesting here, though, is the first-hand account of a meeting with Tuiasosopo. Alema Te'o registered his concerns about Tuiasosopo to Brian Te'o, who relayed those concerns to Manti Te'o the day after Thanksgiving.

We're still awaiting word from Manti Te'o in all of this, and perhaps he can shed some more light on his relationship with Tuiasosopo beyond their meeting in November. And perhaps we'll get more information on this saga if Tuiasosopo or his family breaks its media silence (CSNChicago.com's attempts to reach the Tuiasosopo family Thursday were unsuccessful).

One thing Alema Te'o was adamant about was the family's issues with Tuiasosopo, specifically regarding the timing of Kekua's purported death. Te'o said the focus in his family shifted from grieving for Annette Santiago -- Manti Te'o's grandmother -- to making sure Manti Te'o was okay, and then grieving for the Kekua family.

"They stole that moment," Te'o said of grieving for Santiago.

For the full radio interview with Alema Te'o, click here.

Notre Dame announces new WR, strength coaches

Notre Dame announces new WR, strength coaches

Notre Dame on Thursday announced the formal hiring of two new assistant coaches, one of which featured a somewhat surprising postscript. 

The program's new wide receivers coach will be DelVaughn Alexander, who joins the Irish from Arizona State. Alexander coached tight ends for the Sun Devils in 2016 and spent 2012-2015 as ASU's wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator.

Prior to his stint in Tempe, Washington was Wisconsin's receivers coach from 2007-2011 and also spent time at UNLV, Oregon State and San Diego State. 

"I’m excited to officially get on board, hit the road recruiting, and to find and develop the best student-athletes in the country,” Alexander said. “Notre Dame is a special place, and I’ve been able to the see the power of its brand on the recruiting trails across the country for the last 15-20 years. I’m honored and humbled to serve this University, this program and these remarkable young men.”

“I was looking for an experienced teacher, mentor, recruiter and developer of student-athletes,” coach Brian Kelly said “Del not only met the criteria, but he exceeded it. He also understands, respects and values the type of young men we want to bring to this University and football program.”

In addition to Washington, Notre Dame announced the hiring of Matt Balis as strength and conditioning coach, with Balis replacing longtime Brian Kelly lieutenant Paul Longo in that position. Longo has "taken a leave of absence" from the Irish, according to the program's press release. 

Balis has served in strength coach roles at Houston (2001-2002), Utah (2004), (Florida 2005-2006), Virginia (2007-2008), Mississippi State (2009-2013) and UConn (2014-2016). At UConn, Balis worked under former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco; while at Utah and Florida, Balis worked with current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. 

Whatever changes Balis brings to Notre Dame strength and conditioning will be necessary, as the Irish frequently ran out of gas late in games in 2016. By S&P+, Notre Dame had the second-best first quarter offense in college football last year, but ranked 90th in the fourth quarter. Similarly, Notre Dame's defense had its lowest ranking (61st) in the fourth quarter. 

Granted, some of those struggles were due to poor playcalling and gameplanning, but far too often did Notre Dame's players hit a metaphorical brick wall in the final 15 minutes. Perhaps an infusion of new energy into the weight room will help reverse that trend. 

"It's an honor and dream come true to be part of the Notre Dame football program," Balis said. "I'm humbled by this opportunity and I'll work hard everyday to give our players and program my absolute best."

"Matt comes to Notre Dame with impeccable credentials and incredibly high praise from the likes of Urban Meyer, Mickey Marotti, Dan Mullen, Bob Diaco and Al Groh," Kelly said. "He's already instituted a strength program built with a foundation that focuses on hard work, discipline and top-notch competition. Matt will demand the best from our players, not only in the weight room, but in many other areas within our program. I couldn't be more excited to have him in place moving forward."

Notre Dame officially hires Clark Lea as linebackers coach

Notre Dame officially hires Clark Lea as linebackers coach

Mike Elko's first coaching staff as Notre Dame defensive coordinator is beginning to take shape, with the Irish announcing Thursday the hiring of Clark Lea as linebackers coach. 

Lea spent 2016 as Wake Forest's linebackers coach -- under Elko -- and previously held positions on coaching staffs at Bowling Green, Syracuse and UCLA. 

"Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” coach Brian Kelly said. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system -- having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

In 2016, Lea coached Demon Deacons linebacker Marquel Lee, who was the only FBS player with 100 or more tackles, 20 or more tackles for a loss and 7 1/2 or more sacks last fall. Nationally, Lee ranked 62nd in tackles (105), 10th in tackles for a loss (20) and 53rd in sacks (7 1/2).

Lea also worked with former All-American linebacker Akeem Ayers at UCLA. 

The Nashville native and Vanderbilt alum (he earned both Bachelors and Masters degrees in political science) was also nominated by FootballScoop for its linebackers coach of the year award in 2012 while working with Elko at Bowling Green. 

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”