Yet, even before the Michigan State game, Manti Te’o was being questioned by his teammates. Apparently Manti had only “seen” Lennay once — but I assume “seen” was a rather loose term used for “chatted with online” (however, this is extremely complicated to understand since they were reportedly talking since 2009, according to the Te’o family). The debate among teammates wasn’t whether or not Manti actually knew this girl — it was clear that they had been in contact; no, players just didn’t think that it was fair to call Lennay Kekua Manti’s girlfriend, period (it is well-known on campus that he has had relations with other girls during his time at Notre Dame). They recognized what was going on for what it was — a terrible publicity stunt used to fuel Manti Te’o’s Heisman campaign. In fact, many of the players privately commented that they didn’t want the students to wear leis in support of Manti and wouldn’t participate themselves — they cited that the team never responded so publicly to tragic events for other players. But there was also the feeling that Manti didn’t deserve to benefit from public publicity from the death of somebody he barely knew.
Manti must have known how beneficial this publicity would be in a season that marked Notre Dame’s return to the national elite, and one that also put him squarely in the Heisman race. As a defensive player, you can’t win the prestigious award without exceptional circumstances — and here one had conveniently fallen into his lap.