NFL

The Manti Te’o Catfishing Saga Has Taken an Unexpected Twist

Manti Te’o has found real love. Granted, that’s a whole lot easier to do once you start focusing your attention on real people. The former New Orleans Saints linebacker, famously catfished during his senior season at Notre Dame, married recently. That presumably puts an end to a much-discussed episode in his life.

Manti Te’o was practically a Notre Dame legend

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Manti Te’o’s body of work as a high school football star in Honolulu made him one of the nation’s most coveted Division I recruits during his senior season in 2008. Te’o, who helped his team to its first state championship as a senior, earned Gatorade’s state player of the year honor following each of his final two seasons. He racked up more than 30 college scholarship offers.

Te’o arrived at Notre Dame in the fall of 2009 fresh off having won the high school Butkus Award, presented to the nation’s top scholastic linebacker. He made the selectors look good by making an immediate impact with the Fighting Irish.

His Notre Dame career coincided with Notre Dame’s coaching transition from Charlie Weis to Brian Kelly, who put the program back on solid footing. In his three seasons under Kelly, Te’o totaled 374 tackles and 7.5 sacks. He was a major force in his senior season, making all seven of his career interceptions and 113 stops.

Te’o came out of his senior season projected as a first-round NFL draft pick. He saw his stock slip based upon his showing at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and wound up as the San Diego Chargers’ pick early in the second round in 2013.

The catfishing story became hot national news

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Perhaps the most compelling human-interest story in college football during the 2012 season involved Manti Te’o and how he was inspired by the memory of Lennay Kekua, his dead girlfriend. As captivating as it was, the story turned out to not be accurate. Rather, it was an elaborate hoax perpetrated against the Notre Dame linebacker.

Someone using a fictitious name initiated contact with Te’o and then worked with others in convincing the player that he was engaged in a long-distance relationship with a young woman. The sophisticated hoax ultimately led Te’o to believe that the woman had died of leukemia shortly after the real-life death of his grandmother.

Adding to the craziness of the story, which was unraveled through an investigation by Deadspin, there was speculation that Te’o might have been a party to the hoax, potentially to garner publicity. Te’o finished second to Johnny Manziel in voting for the Heisman Trophy following the season. Te’o later said he misled family members about having at one time met the young woman in person so as to not be seen as “crazy” for conducting a serious relationship with someone he had never met.

Manti Te’o is now married

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The catfishing episode led to months of ridicule for Te’o. It began to die down during his rookie season as he got off to a promising start by making 61 tackles and defending four passes in 13 games. His career with the Chargers consisted of 62 games over four seasons, and he spent portions of the past three years with the New Orleans Saints.

Te’o, 29, was a late-season signing last year after the Saints’ defense was depleted by injuries, and he did not catch on with another team. However, the summer wasn’t a total washout for him. On Aug. 28, 2020, Te’o married Jovi Nicole, his longtime girlfriend.

“I couldn’t give you the world but I think I did better…I gave you my last name and it looks good on you Mrs. Te’o,” the linebacker wrote to her on Instagram.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.