As a student at BYU and editor of their local publication, USN’s own Dan Lewis is in a unique position to weigh in on the many layers of the continually breaking Manti Te’o story from an angle inside Provo, Utah, where Te’o very nearly went as a top national recruit before picking Notre Dame over the Y. We asked Dan what’s being vocalized around campus about this oddest of yarns being spun.
USN: You’re in a unique position to tell the world what folks around BYU are saying about the whole Te’o thing. What’s the reaction to the Manti Te’o news around the BYU campus, a place Te’o could have very easily ended up as a recruit?
Dan Lewis: I think most of the reaction has ranged from astonishment, considering what has happened, and relief, that it didn’t happen at BYU. When the news broke, I immediately thought of Brandon Davies and his suspension after violating the honor code. So as to not worry hundreds of men at BYU, I don’t think having a girlfriend on the internet is a honor code violation, but the reaction is something that I am reminded of. In conversation with some members of the athletic department, I asked them what is going on at the Notre Dame athletic department, and they were all just astonished. They know firsthand what it is like to call your family and tell them that you’ll be eating, sleeping, showering, and working at the office for the next 8-10 days.
Speaking about the feeling of relief, Te’o was nearly a Cougar during his recruitment. Some members of his family informed media professionals, who I respect, that Te’o was coming to BYU. Obviously, he chose Notre Dame, but the decision may have been closer than many can realize. While we certainly care for him as a fellow human being, we also wish him well as a fellow member of the LDS church, and as someone who has a connection to BYU.
I jokingly asked in the newsroom if we should begin investigating athletes and who they date, but I don’t think that has any steam. I really just don’t want to be spammed by LDSsingles.com as a result of getting on and searching.
USN: Was this something that could possibly have been avoided had Te’o chosen to go to BYU instead of Notre Dame?
DL: If Te’o came to BYU, it definitely may have changed things. First, he may have been susceptible because he was looking for love in a lonely place. If Te’o wanted to date a member of the LDS faith, there are a lot more options available at BYU than at Notre Dame. Also, he may not have been as big of a target at BYU – who knows if he develops the way he did while at Notre Dame?
USN: Was it potentially a product of surroundings conducive to necessitating the manufacturing of a fake girlfriend to avoid particular pressures and temptations a young star faces?
DL: If he did manufacture a fake relationship to avoid pressures and temptations, being at BYU may have helped there as well. Instead of having to hide behind a relationship to avoid certain distractions, he could use the honor code as a shield. I do think that Te’o would have friends at Notre Dame that would help support his values. That has been my experience at schools were I am in the extreme minority as a member of the LDS church, and I like to think that Te’o's teammates would act in a similar manner as my friends did.
USN: Does this experience give coaches at BYU an additional recruiting tool for the future, especially considering the way the Brandon Davies scandal was handled in the national spotlight?
DL: Coach Mendenhall talks about making the honor code something that is brought up during recruiting. I think that his record of bringing in players who will follow the honor code is one of the reasons that he is still here despite others clamoring for his dismissal. I do think that the likelihood of a very successful athlete at BYU will have their social media usage highly monitored to help protect the athlete.
USN: What’s the feeling around campus of how this will affect Te’o's future?
DL: Te’o may have been duped by some bad people, but that doesn’t mean that he is a bad person himself. If he was duped, then he might slide in the NFL draft, similar to Vontaze Burfict. Burfict had problems, and went undrafted despite being an excellent linebacker while playing for Arizona State. He started a playoff game for the Cincinnati Bengals, and was one of the top tacklers on his team. Te’o may have not shown up against Alabama, but I believe he will have success in the NFL – depending on whatever team he gets signed by.
Bottom line, if you can play, you’ll find a home in the NFL. Ray Lewis is honored as one of the spokesmen of the game despite being tried in a murder case. DJ Williams starts for the Broncos after multiple arrests. James Harrison gets a contract extension while basically mugging defenseless players. Ben Roethlisberger skirts his way around a rape case and is considered a top 10 quarterback. Michael Vick was given a $100 million contract despite his record as an animal abuser. Plaxico Burress came back after going to prison for illegal possession of a handgun.
USN: Excellent points, Dan. Any closing thoughts on the local chatter you’re hearing in Provo?
DL: Can we use this photo in the story somewhere?
USN: Is that your girlfriend with Manti?
DL: Nope. This is.
Sure it is, Dan. Sure it is…