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


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 ('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 grades: How trustworthy is post-Brian VanGorder turnaround?

Notre Dame grades: How trustworthy is post-Brian VanGorder turnaround?

With Notre Dame in its bye week, we're grading each unit of the Irish after their 2-5 start to the season. After the coaching staff and offense, today it's the defense:

Defensive line: C-

What’s gone right: Individually, players in this unit have had strong games, be it Isaac Rochell (Texas, Syracuse), Daniel Cage (Nevada), Jerry Tillery (Michigan State, N.C. State) or Jarron Jones (Nevada, Stanford). There's certainly disruptive talent here -- Jones, for example, has both an interception and a forced fumble -- that's shown flashes over the course of the season. 

Using a 3-4 front after Brian VanGorder was fired opened the door for Jay Hayes to get on the field, and he immediately made a positive impact against Syracuse. He's someone who coaches still need to get on the field more after the bye week given his size and physicality. 

What's gone wrong: It's not just that Notre Dame only has six sacks -- half of which came against Stanford -- but this team hasn't even been effective at consistently pressuring the quarterback. Rochell has accounted for 37.5 percent of Notre Dame's quarterback hurries (nine of 24), which is also half of the defensive line's total. In 2015, Notre Dame's defensive line averaged just under four sacks and pressures a game; so far in 2016, this group's average is 2.7. 

And to drive this point home a little more: Notre Dame's passing down sack rate is 3 percent, which ranks 118th in FBS and is about 5 percent below the national average. Translated: On obvious passing downs, when a defense usually is able to pin its ears back and rush the quarterback, Notre Dame is getting a sack about one in every 33-34 times. That's staggering for a defensive line that isn't completely bereft of talent -- Rochell, Jones, Tillery and Hayes were all former four-star recruits, while freshman Daelin Hayes was a five-star recruit. 

Linebackers: B-

What's gone right: Nyles Morgan (56 tackles, 3 TFLs, 2 sacks, 2 passes broken up) and James Onwualu (37 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 1 sack, 5 passes broken up, 1 QB hurry, 2 forced fumbles) both have had impactful seasons and have hardly been the reasons why Notre Dame's defense has struggled so much. In a normal season, these numbers would be exactly what Notre Dame needed from these two positions -- rock-solid tackling at middle linebacker from Morgan, and a playmaker at Sam linebacker in Onwualu. 

Greer Martini's two sacks against Stanford were a welcome boost, too, that's worth noting. And Notre Dame's front seven as a whole has been good at not allowing explosive running plays (only two of 30 or more yards). 

What's gone wrong: There's been too much inconsistency from the Will (inside) position, with Te'von Coney, Martini and Asmar Bilal falling short of the production level set by Morgan and Onwualu. And this group certainly is culpable as part of Notre Dame's issues pressuring the quarterback, too. 

Taking the front seven as a whole, it's been mediocre against the run (4.06 yards per carry, 60th in FBS) and ranks 79th in defensive rushing success rate, meaning opposing teams are gaining yardage that would be deemed successful (50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down and 100 percent on third and fourth down) on 42.8 percent of their running plays. 

Secondary: D+

What's gone right: Since Amba Etta-Tawo's 72-yard touchdown in the first quarter of the post Brian VanGorder era, Notre Dame's defense has only allowed one passing play of 30 or more yards (the Irish allowed eight before VanGorder was fired). Freshmen cornerbacks Julian Love, Donte Vaughn and Troy Pride Jr. have shown promise, while senior Cole Luke picked off a pass while playing the nickel against Stanford. Drue Tranquill and Devin Studstill have both tackled better since VanGorder was fired, too. 

In ditching VanGorder's complex, massive inventory for a simpler, smaller version of it, Notre Dame took a fire extinguisher to a secondary that combusted in Week 1 against Texas and remained a burning mess through September. It's not a permanent fix, but the work Brian Kelly, Mike Elston & Co. have done to limit explosive plays from this group has been commendable, though there was nowhere to go but up for it. 

What's gone wrong: While the preseason dismissal of Max Redfield and the Week 2 injury to Shaun Crawford were blows, there's no excuse for how awful Notre Dame's secondary was in its first four games. Forget 30-yard plays, this defense allowed four pass plays of 60 or more yards in September. Opponents average 9.1 yards per pass against the Irish with VanGorder as the defensive coordinator this year (120th in FBS) as this wasn’t a boom-or-bust group like it was last year — it was just a bust group. 

The jury is still out on this secondary, which made strides but did so with a few qualifiers. Syracuse’s offense was more about operating with speed than effectiveness; N.C. State’s passing game was shut down by a hurricane; and Stanford quarterbacks Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst have struggled this year and were without running back Christian McCaffrey as an offensive crutch. Games against Miami’s Brad Kaaya, Virginia Tech’s Jerod Evans and USC’s Sam Darnold will be stronger measuring sticks for this secondary and for the Irish defense as a whole coming out of the bye week. 

Notre Dame grades: Evaluating an offense limping into the bye week

Notre Dame grades: Evaluating an offense limping into the bye week

With the Irish in a bye week, we’re grading Notre Dame’s offense, defense, special teams and coaching staff after seven games. Yesterday was the coaching staff, today is the offense:

Quarterbacks: B

What’s gone right: What a strange season it’s been for this position. DeShone Kizer looked infallible over the first five weeks of the season, throwing for 14 touchdowns against four interceptions and racking up 1,567 yards. Notre Dame’s red zone efficiency significantly improved thanks to Kizer’s six rushing touchdowns in that span, too, helping keep this offense productive despite the departures of almost every key contributor from 2015’s group. 

While things took a turn for the worse in Notre Dame’s last two games before the bye week (more on that below), Kizer has proven over the last 13 months that he’s more than good enough to rebound from those back-to-back ineffective games. The bye week probably benefits him the most, as he can get away from a season that’s put an immense amount of pressure on him for a few days. 

What’s gone wrong: Kizer’s horrific stat line at N.C. State (9/26, 54 yards, 1 INT) can be explained by Notre Dame’s hard-headedness in forcing the redshirt sophomore to drop back and throw so frequently in Hurricane Matthew’s rain and wind. But the weather was clear, warm and dry a week later in South Bend, and Kizer completed 14 of 26 passes for 154 yards with two interceptions and was pulled from the game in the second half for Malik Zaire. 

Coach Brian Kelly’s message after the Stanford loss was that Kizer needs more help on offense, which is certainly true — Kizer was asked to do it all in the first seven games, and it only resulted in two wins. And against Stanford, Kizer looked tentative and not all together confident in his ability to prop up the rest of the offense. 

Combine the pressure on Kizer with an offensive line that hasn’t played up to expectations and that’s led to 16 sacks. The end of the Stanford game highlighted Kizer and the Irish offense’s problem: After driving Notre Dame to the Cardinal eight-yard line, Kizer was sacked, spiked the ball, and sacked again to end the game only a few yards from tying things up. 

Zaire hasn’t been effective in his limited time, completing six of 16 passes for 72 yards and rushing 11 times for 27 yards. 

Running backs: C

What’s gone right: Dexter Williams earned praise from Kelly for his tough, physical running against Duke and ripped off a 59-yard touchdown against Syracuse. Tarean Folston had a 54-yard run on his first carry since tearing his ACL in Week 1 of 2015 and had a handful of impressive runs against Stanford. Josh Adams, probably not coincidentally, had 100-yard games in both of Notre Dame’s wins. 

What’s gone wrong: It’s hard to pin all of Notre Dame’s ground game struggles on either the running backs or offensive line, but whatever the combination is, it hasn’t been effective. Notre Dame enters the bye week averaging 3.98 yards per carry, 93rd in FBS and down over a yard and a half from 2015’s average of 5.63 yards per carry (which ranked 8th). 

However it happens, Notre Dame needs to get more production from its running backs if it wants to effectively take the pressure of Kizer in these last five games. 

Wide receivers: B

What’s gone right: Equanimeous St. Brown has been a revelation, catching 31 passes for 611 yards with six touchdowns in his first seven games. He instantly became Kizer’s go-to target at Texas with his pair of touchdowns — including that highlight-reel somersault into the end zone — and had a ridiculous stat line of four catches for 182 yards and two touchdowns against Syracuse. 

Torii Hunter Jr. has at least four receptions and at least 60 yards in every game since returning from the concussion he sustained at Texas. He caught passes for a pair of impressive third-and-long conversions against Stanford, which were good examples of why the redshirt junior captain remains an important piece in the Irish offense. 

C.J. Sanders (18 catches, 260 yards, two touchdowns) and Kevin Stepherson (10 catches, 209 yards, three touchdowns) have shown flashes as explosive players this year, too. Stepherson’s continued emergence from an impressive spring practice has been a positive, and he’s the first true freshman receiver in the Kelly era to have three touchdowns in his first seven games (per College Football Reference’s play index).  

What’s gone wrong: In 2015, Kizer’s top four targets — Will Fuller, Chris Brown, Amir Carlisle and Hunter — each caught no less than 61.5 percent of their targets. This year, only Sanders has caught at least 60 percent of his targets: St. Brown is at 58.5 percent, Hunter 58.1 percent and Stepherson 52.6 percent. Granted, those numbers are certainly skewed by Hurricane Matthew, so we’ll see how they rebound over these final five games. 

But this is a young receiving corps that, as is the case with underclassmen, isn’t always as sharp as a group of juniors and seniors would be. The good news is this group has laid a relatively solid foundation on which to build next year, when St. Brown and Sanders will be upperclassmen and Stepherson will have two spring practices and a full season under this belt. 

Tight ends: D

What’s gone right: Durham Smythe’s touchdown against Michigan State helped fuel what was ultimately a too-little-too-late comeback effort.

What’s gone wrong: Losing Alize Jones prior to the season certainly dinged this group, which has seen Durham Smythe and Nic Weishar combine of 13 targets, seven catches, 87 yards and one touchdown. Combined with Notre Dame’s running game struggles, there just hasn’t been much production from this group in 2016.

Offensive line: C

What’s gone right: Mike McGlinchey announced earlier this month he’s planning on returning for a fifth year in 2017, which means Notre Dame at the least will return 87 starts on its offensive line next fall (92 if it reaches a bowl game). 

What’s gone wrong: It’s a little strange evaluating this group given that McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson are objectively excellent players, both of whom could wind up being first-round picks and stalwarts on NFL offensive lines someday. But the expectations for this group were high coming into the season, and for whatever reason — having four players playing new positions or being first-time starters is probably No. 1 — they haven’t been met. Notre Dame ranks 58th in adjusted line yards, 61st in opportunity rate and 86th in adjusted sack rate, and even when you distribute some of responsibility for those numbers to the rest of the Irish offense, they’re still below what this line was supposed to be in 2016.