SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP)
A story about Manti Te'o's girlfriend dying of leukemia, which the Notre Dame All-American credited with inspiring him as he led the Fighting Irish to the BCS title game, turned out to be a hoax apparently perpetrated against the linebacker, the school said Wednesday.
The university issued a news release Wednesday after Deadspin.com reported it could find no record that Lennay Kekua ever existed.
The university said that Notre Dame coaches were informed by Te'o and his parents on Dec. 26 that Te'o had been the victim of what appeared to be a hoax. Someone using a fictitious name ''apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia,'' the school said.
The university said ''the proper authorities'' are investigating a ''very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators.'' Notre Dame would not say who, specifically, was investigating the case.
The week before Notre Dame played Michigan State on Sept. 15, coach Brian Kelly told reporters that Te'o's grandmother and a friend had died. Te'o didn't miss the game. He said Kekua had told him not to miss a game if she died. Te'o turned in one of his best performances of the season in the 20-3 victory in East Lansing, and his playing through heartache became a prominent theme during the Irish's undefeated regular season.
"It was hard," he told FOXSportsDetroit.com after win. "I lost a woman who I truly love, but I have a family around me and my football family. At the end of the day, families are forever and I will see them again someday.
"It is a great escape. I will be honest, throughout the game, you are thinking about it. But football allows me to be in a little realm, a little world that I know. I can honor them by the way I played.
"It was for them — for my girl and grandma — and for all my loved ones who have passed on. They are all watching. It was a happy moment."
Te'o went on the become a Heisman Trophy finalist, finishing second in the voting, and leading Notre Dame to its first appearance in the BCS championship.
Te'o and the Irish lost the title game to Alabama, 42-14 on Jan. 7. He has graduated and was set to begin preparing for the NFL combine and draft at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., this week.
Four days ago Te'o posted on his Twitter account: ''Can't wait to start training with the guys! Workin to be the best! The grind continues! (hash)Future''
On Tuesday afternoon, Te'o issued a statement:
"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her.
"To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.
"It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother's death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life.
"I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been.
"In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was.
"Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I'm looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft."
Te'o's mother did not immediately return a call seeking comment.