Manti Te’o emotional in return to Notre Dame stadium

Jared Schwartz

By Jared Schwartz

Manti Te’o couldn’t hold back the tears in his return to Notre Dame.

The former Fighting Irish linebacker, and eight-year NFL player, returned to South Bend, Ind., on Saturday to present the official colors before the team’s game against Cal. It was his first public appearance on campus in over a decade, since his cat-fishing scandal shook the sports world.

He received thunderous applause as he was introduced, visibly wiping away tears from his face and placing his hand over his heart as he saluted the crowd.

Just recently, Te’o shared his story publicly for the first time as part of Netflix’s two-part documentary “Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist.” While starring at Notre Dame during his senior season in 2012, and amid a Heisman trophy push, Te’o revealed that both his grandmother and his girlfriend at the time, Lennay Kekua, had died.

Former Notre Dame player Manti Te’o enters the stadium before a game between Notre Dame and California in South Bend, Ind.

Deadspin reported a year later, however, that the person behind Kekua’s online persona was actually Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a person from Seattle. Te’o and the digital persona only communicated virtually and over the phone — never face-to-face.

“It may have just been some random words to everybody, but for me at that time, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I needed to reveal it,” Te’o told CBS about why he decided to share his story.

“I challenged myself at this time that if anybody asked about it or had questions about it, I would be open and I would have those hard conversations, and I started to feel the strength that I would get from talking about it.”

At Notre Dame, Te’o was a consensus All-American his senior year while also finishing runner-up for the Heisman. He was selected in the second round by the Chargers in the 2013 NFL Draft, after scrutiny surrounding his cat-fishing scandal saw him slide, and played four seasons with the team. He later played three seasons with the Rams and spent time with the Bears, but has not played since 2020.

Notre Dame opened the season 0-2 under new head coach Marcus Freeman, with a loss to Ohio State followed by a shocking upset by Marshall.

Manti Te'o follows members of the Notre Dame football team walk through the crowd to the stadium.
Manti Te’o follows members of the Notre Dame football team walk through the crowd to the stadium.

Prior to the game against Cal, Te’o touched on the slow start.

“There is a reason we’re the Fighting Irish,” he told the crowd, per On3. “We’ll fight you anywhere. We’ll fight you in there, we’ll fight you on the road, we’ll fight you in the parking lot. Turf, snow, rain — it doesn’t matter. We’ll fight you for four quarters. Now we’re going to get the job done. Remember that language, boys. Stay fluent in it. Go Irish!”

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