SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Across the Notre Dame campus Thursday, students were struggling to make sense of how Manti Te'o's heartwarming story had become so sordid and strange.
The All-American linebacker, Heisman Trophy finalist and Notre Dame's most beloved player in decades says he was the victim of an elaborate hoax that led people to believe he had lost his girlfriend to leukemia early in the team's undefeated regular season.
Student body President Brett Rocheleau said initially when students heard the news "they were shocked and confused."
"Most students didn't know how to react," he said. "After the news went viral, on Facebook and Twitter (after) the Deadspin article, there were a lot of questions, but unfortunately there weren't many answers out there. I was watching ESPN trying to see if there was any more information that wasn't in the article. Then at 8 p.m., when (Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick) had his press conference, the campus went silent as everyone watched."
Te'o said in a statement Wednesday that he developed "an emotional relationship" with a woman he met online called Lennay Kekua, and was humiliated to find out that she didn't exist. Swarbrick said an investigation Notre Dame ordered by a private firm turned up evidence that proved to school officials Te'o was not involved in the hoax.
Like all students interviewed Thursday around campus, 19-year-old Ryan Gonzales from Oxnard, Calif., said he was leaning toward believing Te'o's claim that he was a victim. But he can see why some doubt it.
"The fact that it lasted for allegedly three years without having met her, physically met her, I think that is surprising and gives some degree of incredibility," Gonzales said.
"I can't even say to what degree he might have had some complicitness, because I can't really fathom why he would have done it. Maybe it was, as some people say, the publicity aspect, but I really can't bring myself to believe that."
Te'o's father, Brian, told The South Bend Tribune in October that his son and Kekua had met in-person.
Florida tabs Durkin
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Florida coach Will Muschamp wasted little time finding a replacement for departing defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
He didn't have to search very far, either.
Muschamp promoted linebackers coach/special teams coordinator D.J. Durkin to the DC position Thursday, keeping some continuity during a hectic recruiting period. Durkin will continue to serve as linebacker coach.
• Penn State coach Bill O'Brien won the Paul "Bear" Bryant College Coach of the Year Award on Thursday night.
Former Brigham Young coach LaVell Edwards was the ceremony's other honoree, receiving the Bryan Lifetime Achievement Award given by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.
• QB Jacoby Brissett is transferring to North Carolina State from Florida.
• The mother of North Carolina State cornerback David Amerson says her son will skip his final season and enter the NFL draft.