Notre Dame superstar linebacker Manti Te'o -- a 2012 Heisman Trophy finalist -- may have helped to trick the media into believing he had a girlfriend who died back in September ... when in fact, she never existed ... this according to Deadspin.com.
The tragic storyline captivated the nation during Notre Dame's incredible 2012 season -- with countless stories from dozens of major media outlets detailing how Manti persevered after the death of his GF Lennay Kekua and had the season of his life.
Problem is, according to Deadspin, there is no hard evidence proving Lennay Kekua ever existed ... and no official records confirming a person by the name of Lennay Kekua passed away when Manti claims she died.
According to Deadspin, Manti and "Lennay" communicated through social media sites ... but the report suggests that "Lennay" was not a real person -- her account was controlled by someone purporting to be her.
Deadspin says the photos "Lennay" used to identify herself on social media sites were of a Southern California woman who has never met Manti Te'o.
The article also suggests Manti has a connection with the person suspected of acting as "Lennay" on Twitter -- and even goes as far to suggest Manti was in on the hoax because he knew the sob story would generate publicity.
FYI -- Manti is expected to be a high pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
So far, Manti has not commented on the story. We also tried to reach out to Manti -- but our efforts have been unsuccessful.
2:26 PM PT -- Notre Dame has released the following statement ...saying Te'o is merely the VICTIM in the hoax and not a participant. Here's the statement:
"On Dec. 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te’o and his parents that Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia."
"The University immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax. While the proper authorities will continue to investigate this troubling matter, this appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators."
But something doesn't add up ... because Te'o's father had gone on record during the season saying Manti told him he and the GF would often meet up in Hawaii.
So was the father lying? Or was Manti lying?
Something ain't right.