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Manti Te'o is an American football player who became embroiled in controversy in early 2013, when the story of his girlfriend's tragic death was revealed to be a fabrication.
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Born on January 26, 1991, in Laie, Hawaii, Manti Te'o became a star linebacker at the University of Notre Dame. During his senior year, Te'o learned that his grandmother and girlfriend died on the same day, a tragedy that became a top story of the 2012 college football season. When it was revealed that the girlfriend never existed, Te'o was left to explain how he had been deceived by an online hoax.
"I was fully committed to someone who is not real. Who is not what they said they were. I don't know what to say of it. It's taken a toll."
Manti Malietau Louis Te'o was born on January 26, 1991, in Laie, Hawaii, to parents Brian and Ottilia. The town housed a satellite campus of Brigham Young University, and Te'o was raised in a devoutly Mormon home.
Young Te'o grew quickly, overwhelming the Pop Warner football competition as a 5-foot-10, 160-pound sixth grader. He attended Honolulu's Punahou School, alma mater of President Barack Obama, where his dad served as an assistant football coach. Te'o was twice named Gatorade State High School Player of the Year, and in his senior year he lead Punahou to its first state title in its 118-year history.
Ranked the No. 1 defensive prospect in the country by ESPN, Manti Te'o was heavily recruited by most college football powerhouses. Many believed he would commit to the University of Southern California, a warm-weather school with a history of Samoan stars, but Te'o instead elected to attend the University of Notre Dame.
Manti Te'o received a limited number of starts as a freshman, but he established himself as one of the country's top linebackers as a sophomore and junior while helping to bring the storied Notre Dame program back to respectability.
Te'o bypassed the NFL Draft to return for his senior year, a decision that would profoundly affect his public profile. On September 12, 2012, Te'o found out that his grandmother had passed away; hours later, he learned that his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, had also died after a battle with leukemia. The two-part tragedy became a national story, and the media had emotional narrative to weave into the chronicle of the college football season.
Seemingly inspired by Te'o's plight, the Fighting Irish alternated dominant performances with thrilling, close victories en route to a 12-0 regular-season record and the No. 1 ranking in the country. Te'o, who recorded more than 100 tackles for the third straight season to go with an incredible seven interceptions, took home a slew of defensive player of the year awards and finished second in the Heisman Trophy race.
Manti Te'o and Notre Dame disappointed in a 42-14 blowout loss to Alabama in the BCS Championship game on January 7, 2013, though it was generally considered a minor blemish on the resume of the star linebacker.
Nine days after the championship loss, a story surfaced that Kekua, the girlfriend who died of leukemia, never existed. Although Te'o had mentioned meeting her in past interviews, the two in fact had never met, instead maintaining their relationship via phone calls and online chats.
Te'o reportedly found out that Kekua was not real in early December, though he referred to her as his "girlfriend" in at least two interviews after that point.
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