SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- On a frigid night on one of America's most bucolic campuses, they converse like everyone else.
Amid the heart of Notre Dame, a stone's throw from Dillon Hall, the former residence of Manti Te'o, a group of males openly and loudly laugh as they walk, blurting out myths and perpetuating rumors surrounding the school's former star linebacker, who finds himself at the center of what he and his school claim to be a hoax surrounding the story of his late girlfriend.
As they pass the news vans packed outside the football stadium, a group of females wonder aloud why everyone cares so much about the "death" of someone who did not even exist to begin with.
"I like won't get on Twitter or Facebook," senior Matt Losego, one of Te'o's three roommates from two years ago, told ESPN.com. "I think I'm kind of a little disappointed in some of the students' responses. I think that it's not people's place to be passing judgment on Manti about this no matter what is going on. I think that no one really knows what's going on, so it's not right to be passing judgment on him."
The resurgence of the Notre Dame football program, which made a return to the sport's grandest stage this season after a stretch of two dozen mostly underwhelming campaigns, has never seemed so distant. Ten days after the Fighting Irish suffered their first and only defeat of the season -- a 42-14 loss to Alabama in the Discover BCS National Championship in Miami -- the leader of this renaissance finds himself amid one of the more bizarre episodes in sports history.
More questions than answers surround Te'o, who has remained silent in the entire news cycle following Deadspin.com's uncovering and Notre Dame's ensuing confirmation Wednesday that the player's relationship with a girl he referred to as Lennay Kekua did not exist, because she did not exist.
On the campus where he became something of a cult hero, the day-after hangover gave way to a source of confusion, with few willing to speak publicly about the Mormon from Hawaii who spurned rival USC four years ago to come to the nation's prominent Catholic program, who passed up NFL millions a year ago to return for his senior year, who rode a standout final season and the inspirational tale of the deaths of his grandmother and his girlfriend to a second-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting, garnering the most votes of any pure defensive player in the process.
"The way that people are kind of like joking around about it, I think the jokes that I have seen actually have made me pretty mad, upset," Losego said. "I just don't understand like how you could pass these judgments without really knowing the true story yet. I also don't understand how three weeks ago you could be praising him and totally in love with him and worshipping the ground he walks on, and then when this comes out you make him the laughingstock of college football right now.
"I think it's ridiculous. I don't think that that's fair. I don't think that that's right. I think that Manti kind of deserves support from all of us, as he's given us his support in the past."
That support, Losego said, was sprinkled throughout the little things: opening doors for females in his vicinity, welcoming any visitor Losego would invite to their quad, being active with the community youth.
Te'o was not the typical big man on campus that his athletic stature could have given off, Losego said, and the thought of him potentially co-conspiring in a fake-death girlfriend hoax does not fit the picture the captain helped create during his Notre Dame tenure.
"I felt for him, because I know I've been in a position where, I'm sure everybody has, where they've lost somebody," Losego said, speaking about Te'o's handling of this past fall's events. "And the resilience that he has and his ability to go out and perform on the football field like he did against Michigan State, after that happened, I think it just shows mountains of his character. It shows not only how committed he was to family and faith, but also to his teammates, to his coaches and to his friends. To this university.
"I think that people could kind of see what I like, kind of, how I saw him: He's this great guy."
Losego has taken some comfort in the fact that the athletic department has stood by Te'o through this ordeal after all of the positive attention he drew for it while at Notre Dame.
"I think that that's really important," Losego said. "I think it shows a lot about the school and the athletic program and how invested the athletic program is in its athletes, kind of how they're willing to protect their athletes and kind of they would know better than almost anybody on campus, because they spend the most time with them."