Manti Te'o, Notre Dame linebacker, photo courtesy US Presswire
By Rachel George
USA TODAY Sports
Days after a Deadspin report revealed the death of his girlfriend and her very existence to be a hoax, former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o denied being a part of the scheme.
"There is no way I could be a part of this," Te'o told ESPN's Jeremy Schapp in an interview late on Friday evening.
Deadspin first reported on Wednesday that Kekua's existence was a hoax, one allegedly perpetrated by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. The 22-year-old California man is at least a family friend of the Te'os, Deadspin reported. Alema Te'o, Manti's uncle, confirmed that the family knew Tuiasosopo on The Zone Sports Network on Thursday.
COMPLETE COVERAGE: Ready every story on the Manti Te'o hoax
Details of her biography, including a car accident and battle with leukemia, seemed to be borrowed from events in Tuiasosopo's life.
Jazmine Lutu, a female cousin of Tuiasosopo who is in her early 20s, was diagnosed with leukemia in August, according to a post on the Facebook page of Titus Tuiasosopo, Ronaiah's father and Lutu's uncle. Lutu confirmed to USA TODAY Sports on Friday that she is still battling cancer before declining to discuss her family further.
Ronaiah Tiuasosopo himself was involved in a car accident on March 23, an officer with the California Highway Patrol confirmed. That came a month before Kekua's supposed accident on April 28, a date provided by Te'o to Sports Illustrated following her death.
Evidence of the hoax first came to light in early December, months after Te'o said he believed Kekua had died. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who spoke to the media in a press conference Wednesday after the Deadspin story was published, said Te'o received a call on Dec. 6 while in Orlando for ESPN's College Football Awards show.
TE'O: Were hoax details based in fact?
The call came from a number Te'o believed to be Kekua's and the voice of the woman on the other line resembled the one Te'o thought was hers.
On Friday, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that whoever was acting as Kekua said she faked her death to evade drug dealers and tried to resume the relationship. Citing a source close to the Te'o family, the paper reported that Te'o asked for and received a time-stamped photo but remained suspicious.
He notified Swarbrick of the hoax on Dec. 26 and spoke for the AD for nearly two hours the next day. The school hired an investigative firm, which released its findings to the school on Jan. 4. The Te'o family received the info on Jan. 5, just two days before the Fighting Irish's 42-14 loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship.
REPORT: Tuiasosopo admitted to Te'o hoax
In his press conference on Wednesday, Swarbrick emphatically supported Te'o - a player who became the heart of the team as he finished the year as the Heisman Trophy runner-up and led Notre Dame to a 12-0 regular season.
"We believe based on our investigation and based on four years of experience that Manti's the victim of this hoax," Swarbrick said on his podcast, which was published on Friday. "I don't think you spend that much time with a kid and then the first time's there's a challenge, not continue to offer that support. I do it both because of the way I feel about him and my knowledge of him over four years. But I also do it because of the evidence we have available to us.
"Everything I have access to right now does nothing to shake my belief in Manti."
According to Swarbrick, the family had planned to release the story on Monday.