Draft doubts quite real for Te’o
BY SEAN JENSEN Sun-Times Media January 22, 2013 11:14PM
In a photo provided by ESPN, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o pauses during an interview with ESPN's Jeremy Schaap, right, on Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, in Bradenton, Fla. ESPN says Te'o maintains he was never involved in creating the dead girlfriend hoax. He said in the off-camera interview: "When they hear the facts they'll know. They'll know there is no way I could be a part of this." (AP Photo/ESPN Images, Ryan Jones) MANDATORY
‘Face’ of te’o girlfriend speaks out
The woman whose photo was used as the “face” of the Twitter account of Te’o’s supposed girlfriend said the man allegedly behind the hoax confessed and apologized to her. Diane O’Meara told NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo used pictures of her without her knowledge in creating a fake woman called Lennay Kekua. Te’o asserts he was tricked into an online romance with Kekua and, until last week, believed she died of leukemia in September.
O’Meara went to high school in California with Tuiasosopo, but she said they’re not close. He called to apologize Jan. 16, the day Deadspin.com broke the hoax story, she said.
O’Meara said she never had any contact with Te’o.
Updated: February 24, 2013 6:40AM
MOBILE, Ala. — Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o has been evasive in addressing his role in the now-infamous girlfriend hoax. But his future employers are ready to ask him the hard questions as they determine how high he’ll be selected in the 2013 NFL draft in about three months.
‘‘He didn’t embezzle money, beat his girlfriend or get a DUI, but it is concerning,’’ said one NFL general manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
During Notre Dame’s undefeated regular season, Te’o was the Irish’s most touted star, heralded for his on-field brilliance and off-the-field resilience. In addition to the death of his grandmother on Sept. 11, Te’o also told reporters he lost his ‘‘girlfriend’’ to cancer hours later. Last week, the sports website Deadspin published a detailed account dismissing the existence of the girlfriend.
So how much does all this affect his draft stock?
One general manager said he’s more alarmed by Te’o’s poor play in the BCS national championship game against Alabama, noting he already had concerns about Te’o’s speed and range. At the height of his popularity, during the push for him to win the Heisman Trophy, Te’o was mentioned as a possible top-10 draft pick.
Two general managers said they always viewed Te’o to be selected somewhere in the 20s. The Bears pick 20th overall, but they’re widely expected to select an offensive lineman. Many believe Te’o would fall no further than 29th because New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick favors athletic linebackers and hasn’t been averse to taking players other clubs have red-flagged because of character concerns.
In the meantime, most NFL clubs will start aggressively vetting Te’o, with some maybe even hiring private investigators to find out more information about the Hawaii native. One general manager said he probably would bring Te’o to his team’s headquarters to interview him in person. Teams also can interview incoming rookies at the NFL Combine on Feb. 23-26 in Indianapolis.
Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said his team won’t do anything special to get a handle on Te’o. But after recently concluding a coaching search that resulted in the hire of Oregon’s Chip Kelly, Roseman said he doesn’t have a ‘‘great grasp of that situation.’’
‘‘I’ve seen how it’s been reported,’’ Roseman said Tuesday after a Senior Bowl practice. ‘‘That’s one thing (where) we’ll get back together as a staff and make sure we get all the information on anybody who has any sort of blip and make sure we get the right information. But at this point, I don’t know enough to comment on it.’’
Te’o and his family have hired public-relations expert Matthew Hiltzik, but one NFL general manager said canned answers won’t resonate with him.
‘‘He was in so deep and looks like he took it and ran with it,’’ the GM said. ‘‘But the concern is how far he took it.’’
Roseman expressed sympathy for young players in general.
‘‘You’re talking about guys who did things between 18 and 22, and I think when you look around this field — even the people who are very successful — if you go back and look at some of the things everyone did between 18 and 22, you’d kind of shake your head,’’ Roseman said.
‘‘That’s the hardest part of this process, is just knowing, ‘Is this a bad kid? Is this a bad person? Is this just someone who was trying to have a good time and things got out of hand? To tell you that we have an accurate bead on that ever, it’s never going to happen. That’s why people hit 50-55 percent in the first round. You wish you had a better feel for it, and you’ve got to go with your gut a lot of times. But to sit here and tell you I had all the answers, man, I wish I did.’’