Sunday, January 20, 2013
Support for Manti Te'o in South Bend
By Matt Fortuna
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Last spring, John Pepelnjak was engaged in a late-night session of "Madden NFL" on Xbox 360 with his friend Manti Te'o in Te'o's first-floor Dillon Hall dorm room. In the final game of a three-game series, Te'o received a phone call he had been anxiously awaiting.
A woman Te'o had met online, who went by the name Lennay Kekua, had been in a car accident just a few days earlier, on April 28. The voices on the other line, her purported brothers, were updating Te'o on her condition, according to Pepelnjak.
Te'o kept Pepelnjak apprised of some of the details of the conversation during several pauses, including whom he was talking to.
"That phone call made it clear to me how much Lennay meant to him," Pepelnjak told ESPN.com in a statement. "Everything he said and every emotion he expressed were painfully authentic."
As the Te'o saga has continued to unfold, and incidents such as the car accident and several others have been proven false, a number of Te'o's allies on Notre Dame's campus stepped forward publicly Saturday, including Pepelnjak. They appear to validate Te'o's version of events as he described them Friday night during a 2˝-hour interview with ESPN's Jeremy Schaap, his first public statements after the revelation on Wednesday that the girl the world had come to know as Lennay Kekua does not exist.
"I'd have been more suspicious if he said 'I was really wary of this all along,'" Fighting Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick told ESPN's Mark Schwarz on Saturday, referring to Te'o's trusting nature. "It's not who he is. He's the only guy on the team who knows whether a student manager is having trouble in calculus."