Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly defended Manti Te'o on Tuesday, telling reporters that he saw no difference in his star linebacker heading into the Discover BCS National Championship Game.
"I didn't sense it, really," Kelly said, speaking for the first time since the Fighting Irish loss to Alabama earlier this month. "Manti's a young man that continues to lead, and you don't really see him, because obviously he went through a tough time during the year and we didn't really see anything there that would've set off an alarm that he was under so much pressure concerning the situation. I just didn't see it as we practiced leading into the game."
A dominating player during the season, Te'o uncharacteristically missed tackles, and helped allow the Crimson Tide to amass 529 yards of offense. Kelly acknowledged Te'o had a poor final game.
"Hindsight is 20/20," Kelly said. "I didn't think going into the game that he was affected by it. But he didn't play his best," Kelly said. "Alabama had something to do with that as well, clearly. But I really don't know. It's a lot to weigh on the shoulders of somebody. I think we could make a leap that maybe it did, but I think Manti would know for sure."
Te'o anchored a top defense that helped Notre Dame to its first undefeated season in 24 years. He elected to remain in college for his senior season, which became more noteworthy as he dealt with the September deaths of his grandmother and a woman, Lennay Kekua, that he said was his girlfriend.
Te'o has become a national punch line since it was revealed that he was part of a hoax involving Kekua, who in fact never existed. While he and the school claim he was the victim, Kelly said it should taint the linebacker's legacy.
"I think Manti will be remembered as a great leader of our football team, on an undefeated team at Notre Dame," Kelly said. "He showed the way for how to be a great teammate: his work ethic, his commitment, all those things. And for me, he'll be, in my eyes, one of the very great teammates that I've ever had in 22 years of coaching. He just, he was special to coach. And he did all the things that I think great players have to do on a day-to-day basis. And we're going to continue to hold him in that type of esteem."