Te'o girlfriend hoax: Effects on Irish may be minimal

ERIC HANSEN - <a href="http:
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The peripheral threads of the Manti Te'o saga spread, even advanced insome cases on Thursday, the day after the former Notre Dame footballstandout's online relationship mushroomed into internationalheadlines.

Various news outlets and player Twitter accounts quoted recent Te'oteammates, by name, supporting the All-America linebacker as a victimof an elaborate hoax. ESPN reported that a former ND teammate,speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the network's BobHoltzman "players knew the woman wasn't really his girlfriend, eventhough Te'o played that up as his tragic story was being told."

The tragic story originally was that the person with whom Te'o had therelationship, purported to be someone named Lennay Kekua, died ofcomplications from leukemia on Sept. 12, hours after Te'o's maternalgrandmother, Annette Santiago, lost her battle with cancer.

Only the second person and subsequent death in that equation was real,as Deadspin.com first brought to light on Wednesday. Now the collegefootball world and beyond are questioning what was real regarding Te'oand his narrative of triumph over tragedy beyond Sept. 12.

As relatives of Te'o and of the alleged hoaxsters find their way ontothe airwaves and Facebook revelations, the person who can advance thestory the furthest, Manti Te'o, remains quiet. So do his parents inLaie, Hawaii -- father Brian and mother Ottilia -- though a familyfriend in Hawaii suggested Thursday night they would soon break theirsilence.

When the story finally fades -- and Manti Te'o finally fell offTwitter's "trending list" (for now) after 29 hours late Thursday nightper ESPN business reporter Darren Rovell -- the effect on ND's future,namely recruiting, will be minimal in the worst-case scenario.

"In a strange way, it may actually help them," CBS Sports Networkrecruiting analyst Tom Lemming said in a telephone interview fromCalifornia, where he had been interviewing prospects.

"They say any publicity is good publicity. Look, it isn't a Notre Damething. It's a Manti Te'o private life thing. The loss to Alabama and(coach) Brian Kelly's looking at the Philadelphia Eagles were biggerthings to overcome."

Allen Wallace, publisher of SuperPrep, said some of the recruits hehas spoken with might actually sympathize with what Te'o is goingthrough.

"These kids are who are signing letters of intent probably understandhow this stuff can happen more so than people in my generation who arecompletely flummoxed by it," Wallace said. "Our generation can'treally understand how you could have an online relationship withsomebody without seeing them for months, but in today's world with theyounger group, that could be entirely possible.

"I think that they're not going to hold it against Notre Dame. Infact, some might become defensively in favor of Notre Dame. They'llwant to protect the school.

"I'll say it before and I'll say it again. A lot of these kids chooseNotre Dame for very special reasons, and it goes back to importantthings about themselves, long-held beliefs about Notre Dame, AlsoNotre Dame has a great program now."

Lemming said he canvassed recruits about the topic on Thursday, andthere was an overwhelming majority who came out backing Te'o.

"Now, a lot of them are of Polynesian descent, like Tyler Luatua,"Lemming said, "a tight end/defensive end (La Mirada, Calif.) who's oneof the top kids in the 2014 class. His brother plays at Alabama.

"But a lot of other kids are supporting him too. And just look at howNotre Dame might close in recruiting. Two of the best players outthere -- (defensive linemen) Kylie Fitts and Eddie Vanderdoes -- arevisiting Notre Dame next weekend. They were both committed to USC. Andit looks like current USC commit Ty Isaac (Joliet, Ill.) may visitNotre Dame as well with them. When he's healthy, he is the bestrunning back in the country.

"Notre Dame could wind up with the No. 1 recruiting class. They'rehaving one of their better recruiting years and it could even getbetter for Notre Dame fans. They seem to be immune to be disaster atbowl games, head coaches looking at the NFL and a player getting acaught in one of the most famous hoaxes of all time."

Staff writer Eric Hansen:

ehansen@sbtinfo.com

574-235-6112