MOBILE, Ala. (WPMI) - University of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron urged people not to rush to judgment of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and the girlfriend he and a school spokesperson now say never existed.
"I think we should give manti sum respect & don't judge bc we don't know what all is going on. It could be deeper than told. Praying for him!" McCarron wrote from his Twitter account Wednesday.
The website deadspin.com broke the story Wednesday, exposing Te'o's girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, was an internet creation. The revelation came after an inspirational season where he reportedly fought through the tragic deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend on the same day in September 2012. Te'o shared the story with the nation and on ESPN.
"We were actually talking about my grandma. She was trying to console me. I was just out of it. The last thing she said to me was "I love you.'" Te'o said in the October interview.
It turns out that heart-wrenching plot-line was a lie.
As the story spread, Te'o released a written statement that said the two had never met in person, but had grown to love each other during a lengthy online relationship. Te'o claimed he was a "victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies."
NBC News reported Deadspin, among other outlets, have speculated a family friend in Hawaii may be responsible for the hoax.
"He had previously gotten some other guys suckered into this fake relationship," Deadspin reporter Tim Burke told the network.
There are growing questions about whether the football star and his family were also involved. "It would take a pretty clueless guy to fall for this for that long," Burke said.
Notre Dame, however, stands behind the student-athlete. Officials immediately launched an independent investigation when Te'o told them about the hoax in late December, before the CBS National Championship game where Te'o would face off with McCarron on the field in Miami.
"Nothing that I have learned has shaken my faith about Manti Te'o one iota," Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick told reporters.
Analysts and some fans disagreed. "Is there a possibility he got all caught up in this, yes. Did he love the attention," NBC Sports Network anchor Dan Patrick questioned.
Former Auburn University Assistant Athletic Director Dr. Arthur Ogden, who teaches sports management at the U.S. Sports Academy in Daphne, develops sports programs to give coaches insight on warning signs a young player might not be able to handle the pressure of being a star athlete.
"My suspicions are that some team is going to say we are going to take a chance on him because of his ability and then they are going to say, 'You older guys, you veterans, take him under your wing and school this young man,'" Ogden said, "if he has not been a part of this as some people think, then he is one of the most gullible people we have seen in a long long time."
NFL draft consultant Gil Brandt believes the uncertainty surrounding Te'o could affect when Notre Dame's star linebacker might be selected in April's draft. The former Dallas Cowboys general manager adds Te'o's stock had already plummeted after a poor performance in the BCS championship game against McCarron's offense.
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