Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o will play one of the Irish’s biggest games this season with a heavy heart Saturday.
School officials say that within the span of 48 hours this week, the All-American linebacker from Laie has mourned the deaths of his maternal grandmother and his girlfriend.
“He lost some people very close to him and it’s obviously taken a toll on him,” head coach Brian Kelly told the media Thursday night.
The 20th-ranked Fighting Irish play No. 10 Michigan State Saturday in East Lansing, Mich. on national television.
Te’o’s girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died Wednesday from leukemia. A day earlier his grandmother died, family friends said.
Kelly said, “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.”
Kelly said, “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.”
Kelly said he and Te’o, a 2009 Punahou School graduate, have discussed the possibility of the linebacker returning to Hawaii before or after the Sept. 22nd Michigan game. Notre Dame has an open week following the Michigan game.
“We’ve had some preliminary conversations about it,” Kelly said. “We’ve got a bye week coming up. But we’ll see how things go. We know he’ll be with us Saturday.”