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Chicago Tribune

Manti Te’o's ascendancy to national star and Heisman Trophy candidate was jet-propelled by the personal backdrop of a girlfriend tragically lost to leukemia in September.

Except that girlfriend never existed.

And so the former Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman runner-up has plunged into a morass of controversy and confusion, with a Deadspin story reporting that the woman known as Lennay Kekua was a hoax — and Notre Dame confirming that later Thursday in an official statement.

“On Dec. 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te’o and his parents that Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia,” the school’s statement read.

“The University immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax. While the proper authorities will continue to investigate this troubling matter, this appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators.”

It was the week of the Michigan State game in September in which the story unfolded: Te’o lost his grandmother, Annette Santiago, and then Kekua, his purported girlfriend, in a 48-hour span.

That double-loss vaulted Te’o on to the cover of Sports Illustrated and, along with Notre Dame’s eventual undefeated regular season, into the Heisman Trophy mix. Te’o would finish second in that voting to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, tying for the best finish ever by a pure defender.v

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