File photograph of Notre Dame linebacker Te'o speaking during media day for 2013 BCS National Championship NCAA football game in Miami

Woman tells OTL that Tuiasosopo admitted to duping Te’o

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It’s been two days since Deadspin published a report stating that Lennay Kekua, the girlfriend of Notre Dame All-American Manti Te’o — the same girlfriend who supposedly passed away last September following a battle with leukemia — was a hoax.

There have been a plethora of questions (and few answers) arising from this bizarre story, but the primary one has been whether Te’o was the victim of the hoax, as Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick stated in a press conference Wednesday night, or in on the hoax. Or, perhaps the truth is somewhere in between.

Either way, a confession of some kind appears to be the only way to begin to set this story straight. Turns out, there may be one.

The man believed to be behind the hoax, behind the identity of Kekua, is 22-year-old Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. On Friday, a woman identifying herself only as a friend of Tuiasosopo told ESPN’s Shelley Smith on “Outside the Lines” that Tuiasosopo confessed in December to duping Te’o. Not only that, but the woman stated Tuiasosopo admitted that Te’o was not his first target.

“He (Ronaiah) told me that Manti was not involved at all, he was a victim. … The girlfriend was a lie, the accident was a lie, the leukemia was a lie,” said the woman. “He was crying, he was literally crying, he’s like ‘I know, I know what I have to do.’

“It’s not only Manti, but he was telling me that it’s a lot of other people they had done this to.”

Two other people — 28-year-old J.R. Vaosa of Torrance, Calif., and 21-year-old Celeste Tuioti-Mariner, 21, of Whittier, Calif. — also told Smith on “OTL” that they had a cousin who fell victim to a similar online hoax, allegedly orchestrated by Tuiasosopo using Kekua’s identity, beginning in 2008.

“When Lennay said she was gonna be at this park one day, we’d go to the park and Ronaiah pops up and then we go to the gym in Orange County where the kids have volleyball tournaments, Ronaiah’s there,” Vaosa said.

Finally, the family convinced Vaosa’s cousin that something wasn’t right and he needed to cut things off not only with Kekua, but Tuiasosopo, whom they were convinced was the real Kekua, Tuioti-Mariner said.

According to the ESPN report, the woman whose photos were portrayed as Kekua has been identified by “Inside Edition” as Diane O’Meara. O’Meara’s attorney told “Inside Edition” that his client’s photos were stolen and used in the hoax. Deadspin reported that the woman whose photos were used was a former classmate of Tuiasosopo.

Vaosa and Tuioti-Mariner also appear to be the same individuals engaging with one another over the past month or so via Twitter regarding the hoax. Additionally, all three testimonies on “OTL” seem to line up with this paragraph from the Deadspin story:

… We spoke with friends and relatives of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo who asserted that Ronaiah was the man behind Lennay. He created Lennay in 2008, one source said, and Te’o wasn’t the first person to have an online “relationship” with her. One mark—who had been “introduced” to Lennay by Tuiasosopo—lasted about a month before family members grew suspicious that Lennay could never be found on the telephone, and that wherever one expected Lennay to be, Ronaiah was there instead. Two sources discounted Ronaiah’s stunt as a prank that only metastasized because of Te’o’s rise to national celebrity this past season.

Deadspin reports that “Te’o and Tuiasosopo definitely know each other,” but exactly how isn’t clear. A supposed friend of Tuiasosopo told Deadspin that he was “’80 percent sure’ that Manti Te’o was ‘in on it,’ and that the two perpetrated Lennay Kekua’s death with publicity in mind.”

However, Te’o’s uncle, Alema Te’o, appeared on The Zone Sports Network Thursday night to speak about the story. During the interview, he called Tuiasosopo a “liar” and noted during one particular interaction that Tuiasosopo began promoting a foundation to raise money for leukemia victims. 

Te’o has not spoken publicly about the hoax outside of a statement issued on Wednesday after the Deadspin story was published and there doesn’t appear to be any sign that he plans to do so in the foreseeable future. The questions Te’o will be asked once he does speak — be it with reporters or representatives from NFL clubs at the upcoming combine — will surely be numerous with explicit inquiries about the timeline of his supposed relationship with Kekua.

Updated 5:30 p.m. ET: The Honolulu Star-Advertiser adds a disturbing and bizarre twist on the Te’o story, reporting that Kekua told Te’o she had to fake her own death to avoid drug dealers. Te’o spoke over the phone with a person he believed to be Kekua on Dec. 6, nearly three months after she reportedly died.

Record-breaking QB one of two coaches hired by New Mexico State

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Doug Martin‘s 2017 on-field coaching staff will have a decidedly familiar feel to it, even as it’s in some ways brand-new.

New Mexico State announced that two coaches have been hired by Martin, Chase Holbrook and Kai Brown.  The former will serve as tight ends coach, the latter as defensive ends coach.

Holbrook spent the 2016 season as a quality control coach for Mike Leach at Washington State.  A former NMSU quarterback, he still owns the school’s single-season and career records for passing, passing attempts, completions, touchdowns, total offense and total touchdowns.

Brown was a graduate assistant the past three seasons for the football program.

“We are really excited about Chase coming back to New Mexico State,” Martin said. “Having a former great quarterback that has his name written all over the Aggie record book will have a huge impact on us taking that next step. Chase really believes and cares deeply about the football program here. To have a coach of his talent join our staff makes us a better program immediately. …

“Kai has been a very loyal hard working coach for us as a GA and it gives me great pride to add him to our staff in a full time role. He brings a lot of enthusiasm to our program and has a great relationship with our players.”

This will be both coaches’ first foray into full-time coaching responsibilities at the FBS level.

Cal turns to Fresno State to complete Justin Wilcox’s staff

EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 14:  A member of the California Golden Bears spirit squad waves a team flag while standing next to the Bears' mascot in front of the Michigan State Spartans crowd on September 14, 2002 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan.  California defeated Michigan State 46-22.  (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Getty Images)
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In late December, Fresno State hired Tony Tuioti as part of Jeff Tedford‘s first coaching staff with the Mountain West program.  Two months later, Tedford’s former Pac-12 employer has poached said staff.

By way of a press release, Cal announced that Tuioti has been hired as Justin Wilcox‘s outside linebackers coach.  Tedford served as Cal’s head coach from 2002-12; Tim DeRuyter, Fresno’s head coach for five seasons before being fired and replaced by Tedford, is now Wilcox’s defensive coordinator with the Golden Bears.

“Tony has a tremendous resume that showcases his diverse skill set and abilities both on and off the field,” Wilcox said in a statement. “Not only is he an excellent coach, but the experience he has as a director of player personnel will be a tremendous benefit to us in the structuring and organization of our recruiting operation. Finding someone with a skill set as unique and diverse as Tony’s is challenging. We are fortunate that we have found that in Tony and are looking forward to his contributions to our program.”

“Working at Cal for a coach like Justin Wilcox was an opportunity I could not pass up,” a statement from Tuioti began. “I have a tremendous feeling about the positive direction Cal is headed, and I really wanted to be a part of that and contribute all I could to a football program with tremendous potential.”

In 2016, Tuioti worked as a football staffer at Michigan.  His last on-field job at the collegiate level came at Hawaii (2012-13, linebackers coach; 2010-11, defensive line).

Georgia raising money to build Devon Gales a home

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It’s been close to a year and a half since Southern football player Devon Gales fractured his C6 vertebrae when covering a kick at Georgia. While the two sides will forever be linked, Georgia has gone above and beyond its duties to help improve his life.

In addition to regularly visiting him in the hospital and paying for his parents’ travel to Georgia, the Bulldogs will now raise funds to build him a house.

Gales received an NCAA Sportsmanship Award at the Bulldogs’ basketball game on Saturday, and it was announced that the UGAAA will launch a “Drive to Build a Dawg House” for Gales and his family.

“Anybody can just their prayer for you and send you on your way, but they didn’t. They took me as one of their kids, not just as another player, but as one of their children,” Gales said.

To contibute, text (707) 204-1707 to donate $5 toward the fund.

Mike Gundy says Sugar Bowl loss to Ole Miss wasn’t on a “level playing field”

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 01:  Laquon Treadwell #1 of the Mississippi Rebels celebrates scoring a 14-yard touchdown against the Oklahoma State Cowboys during the fourth quarter of the Allstate Sugar Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 1, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
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Mike Gundy originally blamed himself for Oklahoma State’s 48-20 loss to Ole Miss at the Sugar Bowl that closed the 2015 season.

Speaking at the AFCA Convention in Nashville last month, I heard Gundy explain to thousands of fellow coaches he felt he overtrained his Cowboys in preparation to play the physically imposing Rebels. The end result backfired. As I wrote for FootballScoop:

As Oklahoma State prepared to face No. 12 Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl, Gundy pushed his players harder than usual in December practices. “They’re going to knock us off the ball and it’s not going to look pretty,” he remembers thinking. That strategy backfired on him, though, as the Rebels pounded Gundy’s team 48-20. Oklahoma State was out-rushed 207-63 and averaged only 6.7 yards per pass attempt to Ole Miss’s 9.9. “We weren’t physical and we were slow,” Gundy said.

But now Gundy thinks something else may have contributed to that 28-point spanking.

As he explained to the Tulsa World‘s Bill Haisten, Gundy said he couldn’t help but think of the Sugar Bowl when he learned of the NCAA’s charges against Ole Miss.

“The first thing I thought about was (OSU’s recent experience with the NCAA),” Gundy said, “and the second thing was the Sugar Bowl and my players and what they went through.”

He continued: “We’ll never know what we could have done in the Sugar Bowl if it was a level playing field. That is the truth. I’m not sure we would have won the Sugar Bowl, but we’ll never know.”