Manti Te’o put together an impressive college career in his four seasons at Notre Dame, where he was an award-winning linebacker who nearly walked away with the Heisman Trophy. By the time Te’o was ready to join the NFL, however, nearly no one was interested in talking about his football career.
Instead, the country became fascinated with how Te’o had been caught up in perhaps the most discussed catfishing hoax ever. It was an embarrassing episode for the player, his family, and the school.
Manti Te’o starred at Notre Dame on his way to the NFL
The college career of Manti Te’o coincided with Notre Dame’s coaching transition from Charlie Weis to Brian Kelly. The latter put the program back on solid footing and positioned the senior linebacker to become one of the stars of a 12-1 team that played in the BCS Championship following the 2012 season.
It capped an impressive four-year career with the Fighting Irish during which Te’o piled up 437 tackles and 8.5 sacks. All seven of his career interceptions came during his senior season.
Projected as a likely first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Te’o saw his stock slip for a couple of reasons. On the field, his showing at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis wasn’t a flop but also didn’t dazzle. His pro day in South Bend went better, but it wasn’t enough to lift Te’o back into first-round status.
The San Diego Chargers ended up selecting Te’o early in the second round, 38th overall. Had it not been for Lennay Kekua, he might still have gone in the first round.
The Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax was huge news
One of the big human-interest stories in the 2012 college football season involved Manti Te’o and how he was inspired by the memory of Lennay Kekua, his dead girlfriend. It was a compelling story. It also wasn’t true. Instead, the story was an elaborate hoax perpetrated against the linebacker.
Someone using a fictitious name made 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. He was later led to believe that the woman had died shortly after the real-life death of his grandmother.
Adding a layer of complexity to the story, which was unearthed by Deadspin, there was conjecture that Te’o was a party to the hoax, potentially to garner publicity. Te’o finished second to Johnny Manziel in voting for the Heisman Trophy.
Mixed results at best in his NFL career
After helping Notre Dame into the college championship game against Alabama following the 2012 season, Manti Te’o went to the San Diego Chargers in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft.
He played four seasons with the Chargers, starting 34 games and making 221 tackles. Te’o spent most of his final season in San Diego on injured reserve.
The New Orleans Saints signed Te’o to a two-year, $5 million deal during the free-agent window in 2017, and he made 80 tackles in 21 games, missing the majority of the 2018 season. He was brought back as a late-season injury replacement in 2019 and then once again released.
He has yet to be picked up by a team for the 2020 NFL season. ESPN reportedly has a documentary in production about Te’o and the catfishing episode.