Manti Te'o to Play Saturday Despite Loss of Two Loved Ones

By Tom O'Toole

Some days it gets so hard to keep moving forward when you lose someone close. Every day is a constant struggle to be happy. #lifeisntfair — TJ Jones, September 12, 2012

@lennaykay you will always be with me wherever I go!… I love you! — Manti Te’o, September 12, 2012

No one can attest better to the truth of the tweet Notre Dame wide receiver T.J. Jones sent this week, after losing his father to a brain aneurism last summer at the age of forty-two. And no one needed to hear that tweet more this week than his teammate, linebacker Manti Te’o after Te’o lost not one but two loved ones between September 11 and September 12.

Te’o’s grandmother passed away Tuesday night, while his female friend, Lennay Kekua, lost a lengthy battle to leukaemia Wednesday morning.

Still, Te’o will play against Michigan State on Saturday, Irish coach Brian Kelly confirmed.

“He lost some people very close to him, and it’s obviously taken a toll on him,” Kelly told reporters after practice Thursday. “Our players have been there for him and have been a great support. We’ll support him. He’ll be with us. He practiced. He’ll be playing Saturday against Michigan State.”

“Unfortunately, he’s gone through a very rough 24, 48 hours. But his support and his family at home have been great, and all of the coaches and players have been there for him. He wants to be with his teammates, he wants to be with the people that care about him. He’s a strong man and he’s going through a tough time, but he’ll rise to the occasion.”

Having lost both grandmothers myself, I know it is always sad to lose someone you’ve been close to for such a long time. However, knowing that someone has lived a long, happy, and holy life, at least makes it a little easier. But this is not so with someone young and vibrant like Kekua who is cut down in the prime of their life, and there was a thought that Te’o would return to Hawaii to mourn her. In fact, he did decide to return to Hawaii to grieve Kekua’s passing — just not this weekend.

Certainly, it is futile for a mere sportswriter to speculate on the specialness of their relationship. Te’o’s tweet, “I may not hear your voice anymore but I do feel your presence!” merely hints at their closeness, while Kekua’s recent advice, “Make the effort to PRAY together! The best place to be joined together is in the presence of our Heavenly Father! You can’t get any closer!” was tweeted to several friends at the same time, proves they were both quite religious, but nothing more.

However, her last tweet to Te’o, written specifically to him about the Purdue game, is both compassionate and at the same time utterly practical…and I believe her blunt instructions to him as to how to handle the Boilermakers also gives insight as to why Manti is playing against the Spartans so soon after her death.

“Get it done. I love you.”

God be with you, Lennay Kekua, and know that Manti Te’o loves you too.

Related: Notre Dame Football: A Poem — and Picture — for Manti Te’o

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