INDIANAPOLIS -- Former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was on top of the football world prior to the National Championship game against the University of Alabama on Jan. 7, but that came to a quick end after it was revealed that his late girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, did not exist and that he was a victim of a “Cat fishing” scheme perpetrated by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.
“Cat fishing” is a scheme in which people create fake online identities and trick people into romantic relationships.
“The hardest part was just to see not necessarily my first name, but my last name,” Te’o said Saturday at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine. “You treasure your last name. That’s something that when you pass on, that’s the only thing that stays with you, stays here.
“The toughest part was a phone call that I got from my sister. They had to sneak all the family in their home because there were people parked in the yard. That had to be the toughest part. For me, something I’ve always had a problem with is when I can’t do something about it, when I can’t help. To know that my family was in this situation because of the actions I committed was the hardest part for me.”
Prior to a game against Michigan State, Te’o lost his grandmother. Later in the day, he was informed that Kekua had lost her battle with Leukemia. After the Fighting Irish lost in the National Championship game, the truth about Te’o’s girlfriend came to light.
Te’o reportedly found out about the hoax and informed Notre Dame officials before the National Championship game.
“It was just grueling for me,” Te’o said. “I was a 21-year old at the time, and you’re just trying to get your thoughts. Everything was just chaos for a little bit. You let the chaos die down and wait till everybody’s ready to listen.
“We wanted to let everything come out first and then, have my side come out. The way that we did it, I felt it worked best for me. I’m just very grateful for those who helped me get through that time. I think it went as smoothly as it could.”
Throughout this ordeal, Te’o said he “learned the difference” between handling things he can control and worrying about those that he could not.
“As people, we have to realize that we’re all people,” Te’o said. “Somebody is somebody’s son; somebody is somebody’s daughter. I try to picture it that way. Would you want somebody doing that to your son? Would you somebody doing that to your daughter? If not, then, why do it? Through this experience, I’ve learned that. The things I see, the things I do, I try to always think, ‘That’s somebody’s son; that’s somebody’s daughter; somebody’s mom, dad.’”
Te’o said he has officially talked with two teams at the Combine, and has meetings scheduled with 18 other organizations before hitting the field for workouts on Monday morning. Getting back to football is something Te’o is looking forward to, especially after handling the hoax.
“What I bring to the table is a lot of heart, a lot of energy and somebody that works hard, somebody who hates losing,” Te’o said. “I always said that I hate to lose more than I love to win. The reason why I love to win is because I don’t have to go through that feeling of losing. Those times where I lose, that feeling sticks with me. For the teams, I told them, ‘You will always get somebody who’s humble, works hard, doesn’t say much and will do everything it takes to win.”