Swarbrick addresses Te’o situation, but questions remain

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Or, rather, one very key question remains.

The sports news cycle exploded Wednesday evening with a Deadspin report alleging that the story surrounding the death of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o‘s girlfriend was in fact a lie allegedly perpetrated in part by the player.  Both the University and Te’o followed that up with separate statements that each came to the same conclusion — Te’o had been duped by and became the unwitting victim of an elaborate hoax.

At a hastily arranged press conference Wednesday, athletic director Jack Swarbrick continued that theme.  In opening remarks before taking questions from the assembled media, Swarbrick described Te’o as “the perfect mark,” saying that the Heisman finalist “was the victim of that hoax. … is the victim of that hoax, and he will carry that with him for a while.”

Based on information relayed to him by Te’o as part of the school’s own initial look into the situation, Swarbrick stated that Te’o received a call in early December from a number associated with Lennay Kekua — the girlfriend who Te’o had proclaimed to be the love of his life — and with a voice on the other end of the line that sounded like that of Kekua claiming she had not in fact died three months earlier.  Three weeks later, on Dec. 26, Te’o took that information to the Irish coaching staff before it ultimately landed in the hands of a private investigation firm.

A report from that investigative firm was delivered to the University Jan. 4 — three days before the Irish played Alabama for the BCS championship — and forwarded to Te’o and his family. “It… is my understanding that they were on a timetable to release the story themselves next week when today’s story broke,” Swarbrick stated.

The hoax perpetrated by multiple unidentified individuals was so elaborate, Swarbrick explained, that there was even “a place to send flowers” after Kekua’s supposed death.

“There are a remarkable number of characters involved,” the AD explained. “We don’t know how many people they represent. There are male and female characters, brothers, cousins, mother, and we don’t know if it’s two people playing multiple characters or multiple people. But, again, it goes to the sophistication of this, that there are all these sort of independent pieces that reinforce elements of the story all the way through.”

Swarbrick at one point was on the verge of tears, pausing for several seconds to compose himself as he described the “tragedy” of “the single most trusting human being I’ve ever met will never be able to trust in the same way again in his life.”  That specific exchange was the overriding takeaway from Swarbrick’s surreal press conference, one that shows, right or wrong, the athletic director is standing firmly behind Te’o’s version of what transpired over the past three years.

Despite Swarbrick’s staunch and eloquent and oft-times emotional support of Te’o, there was one nagging question that the AD simply couldn’t or wouldn’t answer.  What was the nature of Te’o’s supposed relationship with Kekua?

“What I will tell you, this was exclusively an online relationship,” Swarbrick said when asked to explain how the Te’o-Kekua pairing came to be.

That, though, doesn’t jibe with an Oct. 12, 2012 article from the South Bend Tribune — an article, incidentally, that was taken offline in the wake of the Deadspin story — that contained these quotes from Te’o’s father.

“They started out as just friends,” Brian Te’o told the Tribune. “Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there. But within the last year, they became a couple.”

A short time later, Swarbrick was asked about when the relationship began and how they met.

“I don’t remember the exact length of time,” Swarbrick said, “but it had it began with an online reaching-out to him that he responded to.”

Again, that falls short of the narrative spun in the Tribune story, which focuses on Te’o and Kekua meeting after the Notre Dame-Stanford game in 2009.

Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te’o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes.

Lennay Kekua was a Stanford student and Cardinal football fan when the two exchanged glances, handshakes and phone numbers that fateful weekend three seasons ago.

Near the end of the press conference, a reporter again pressed Swarbrick on how the relationship between Te’o and Kekua had been portrayed, intimating that it was the player himself who led many to believe that the two had met in 2009 at Stanford.  Essentially, the whole “hoax” claim was again being called into question, and Swarbrick again danced around any type of in-person meeting between the couple.

Q: …I know there have been reports that Manti said he had an initial face to face meeting with his girlfriend at Stanford at some point. What’s going on with that?

JACK SWARBRICK: Again, I’ll let Manti provide the details, but as I said earlier in this press conference, when Manti took me through the entire story from start to finish, when he first described the contact, he used the verb met. For him, the fact that they connected online, that they met online, was consistent with using that verb. Not one that I might have chosen, but it was for him.

How stares get pleasantly tangled or handshakes get exchanged in an initial online connection is, at the moment, the great unknown and will take an explanation from the player himself to unravel that technological mystery.

Speaking of which, Swarbrick suggested during his press conference that Te’o could meet with the media as early as Thursday.  Whether any additional light will be shed on the bizarre situation, or whether Te’o will further bury himself in the court of public opinion, when that inquisition takes place remains to be seen.

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Dismissed Georgia Tech RB Dedrick Mills headed to 2016 JUCO champ

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Less than a week after his unexpected and abrupt departure from Georgia Tech, Dedrick Mills has found himself a new college football home.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mills has enrolled Garden City Community College in Kansas.  As his next stop, which won the 2016 junior college national championship, plays below the FBS level, the running back will be eligible to play immediately in 2017.

Very late last week, Tech announced that Mills had been dismissed from the program for an unspecified violation of athletic department rules.

Last season, Mills’ 771 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns led all Tech ball carriers., with 169 of those yards coming in the bowl win over Kentucky.  Mills put up all of those numbers as a true freshman despite being suspended on two different occasions for a total of three games.

More than likely, Mills will spend one season at the JUCO level before moving back to the FBS.  Whatever team grabs him at that time would be getting a talented player who would still have two years of eligibility remaining.

Bowling Green starting corner will miss at least opener, possibly entire 2017 season

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At the moment, the injury news for Jamari Bozeman is bad.  Depending on how things play out over the next several weeks, it could be bad.

According to the Toledo Blade, Bozeman will definitely miss the 2017 opener against Michigan State because of what’s described as an upper-leg injury.  Additionally, the Blade reports that the defensive back will probably miss the entire non-conference schedule, which, in addition to MSU, includes the home opener against FCS South Dakota Sept. 9 followed by road trips to Northwestern and Middle Tennessee the next two weeks.

Somewhat ominously, the newspaper writes that, beyond that, “his status for the rest of the season is uncertain.”

A 12-game starter for the Falcons at safety last season, Bozeman led the team in interceptions with three.  He was named third-team All-MAC after last season.

The good news is that Bozeman, a true sophomore this year, has yet to use his redshirt and would get this season of eligibility back if the injury is severe enough to sideline him for the entire 2017 campaign.

Danny Etling holds off true freshman, named LSU’s starting QB

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Myles Brennan is, more than likely, the future at the quarterback position for LSU.  In the here and now, however, the precocious true freshman will have to bide his time — at least for now.

After a significant, and maybe unexpected, push from the true freshman Brennan, Danny Etling Tuesday was officially named as the Tigers’ starting quarterback in a battle that Ed Orgeron described as “very close.”  Etling, a transfer from Purdue, came into the competition as the incumbent, starting the last 10 games of the 2016 season after taking over the job from Brandon Harris.

“We believe in Danny. We hope he has a great year,” the head coach said according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

In his first season at LSU, Etling completed 160-of-269 passes (59.5%) for 2,123 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.  In his 10 starts, the Tigers went 7-3 in a season that saw them finish 8-4.

Brennan was a four-star 2017 signee, rated as the No. 6 pro-style quarterback in the country.

Etling’s first start in his second season with the team will come Sept. 2 against BYU in the neutral-site opener.

UTSA-Texas State series rebranded H-E-B I-35 Showdown

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For those not familiar with HEB Grocery Company, it’s a grocery giant founded in Kerrville, Texas, in 1905 by a man named Florence Butt. H-E-B now owns nearly 400 stores stretching across south and central Texas and central Mexico. H-E-B essentially owns the San Antonio area and leases back to its million-plus residents, so it makes sense that when UTSA and Texas State wanted to brand their rivalry, they turned to H-E-B.

Starting this season, the UTSA-Texas State series will now be known as the H-E-B I-35 Showdown

Cue the AD boilerplate!

“We’re thrilled that H-E-B has become the title sponsor for the I-35 rivalry football games between UTSA and Texas State,” UTSA Associate Vice President/Director of Athletics Lynn Hickey said. “No matter the sport, both fan bases always show up in strong support when the Roadrunners and the Bobcats get together on the playing fields. This newly-branded name for the football games this season and next will only add to the rich history between the two schools.”
 
“It is great to have H-E-B supporting the I-35 football series between Texas State and UTSA,” Texas State Director of Athletics Larry Teis said. “H-E-B has a great relationship with the state of Texas and both universities. We have continued to play UTSA in other sports and the rivalry is strong for our student-athletes and fans.”

The two schools are natural gridiron rivals. They sit just 50 miles apart — connected by Interstate 35, of course — and compete for athletes and regular students alike. The Roadrunners and Bobcats have been Olympics sports rivals for years, primarily as members of the Southland Conference. Each football program is (obviously) in FBS now and have met only once, a 38-31 UTSA win in 2012, since the Roadrunners’ program launched in 2011.

The series will resume Sept. 23 in San Marcos, with Texas State making a return visit to San Antonio on Sept. 22, 2018.