At com­bine, Te’o ex­presses em­bar­rass­ment from hoax

The Washington Post Sunday - - COLLEGE BASKETBALL - BY MIKE JONES jonesmb@wash­post.com

indianapolis — Fac­ing a mass of re­porters for the first time since the bizarre story of the hoax in­volv­ing his dead girl­friend broke last month, former Notre Dame line­backer Manti Te’o took the podium at the NFL Scout­ing Com­bine on Satur­day af­ter­noon, ex­press­ing em­bar­rass­ment and a de­sire to move on from the in­ci­dent.

Stand­ing be­fore roughly 20 cam­eras and more than 100 re­porters crowded around the stage, Te’o said he hoped to put it all be­hind him and fo­cus on foot­ball. But at­ten­tion turned to the saga by the sec­ond ques­tion of the news con­fer­ence, to which Te’o re­sponded: “Of the in­ci­dent, I’ve said all I need to say about that. How I’m han­dling it go­ing for­ward, is do­ing what I’m do­ing right now. Fo­cus­ing on the moment, and fo­cus­ing on foot­ball, and the com­bine.”

Te’o fielded an­other 32 ques­tions over a 141/ minute span, most of them re­lated to the rev­e­la­tion that the story of his late girl­friend’s ill­ness and death dur­ing his se­nior sea­son at Notre Dame turned out to be un­true and that the girl­friend, Len­nay Kekua, never ex­isted. Te’o, who had given three one-on-one in­ter­views since Jan­uary, re­mained com­posed through­out, though sev­eral times his voice wa­vered.

When fur­ther prod­ded about the hoax, he of­fered only: “I would say, I cared for some­body, and that’s what I was taught to do, ever since I was young. If some­one needs help, you help them out, and un­for­tu­nately, it didn’t end up the way I thought it would.”

Asked why he con­tin­ued to lie about the ex­is­tence of Kekua for sev­eral days af­ter he said he learned he had been duped, Te’o said: “Just, it was just a whirl­wind of stuff. For me, 22-year-old, 21 at that time, you’re just try­ing to get your thoughts right. Ev­ery­body’s just kind of chaos for a bit, so you let the chaos die down, and wait un­til ev­ery­body’s ready to lis­ten.”

Te’o said the tough­est moment dur­ing the con­tro­versy “was a phone call that I got from my sis­ter. She told me that they had to sneak my own fam­ily in their home be­cause there were peo­ple parked in the yard and stuff like that. ... Some­thing that I’ve al­ways had a prob­lem with is when I can’t do some­thing about it and know­ing I can’t help, and know­ing that my fam­ily was in that sit­u­a­tion be­cause of the ac­tions that I com­mit­ted was def­i­nitely the hard­est part for me.”

He said he will not press charges against Ro­ni­a­iah Tuia­sosopo, the man al­legedly re­spon­si­ble for the hoax.

“I think that’s the worst thing you can do,” he said. “Both fam­i­lies are go­ing through chaos. ... And so I al­ways try to for­give. If you for­give, you’ll get a ma­jor­ity of the bless­ings, so I al­ways try to for­give and it’s def­i­nitely ben­e­fited me.”

Te’o had al­ready spent Fri­day, the com­bine’s first day, run­ning a gant­let of med­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal ex­ams and in­for­mal meet­ings with sev­eral NFL teams. The Hous­ton Tex­ans and Green Bay Pack­ers had al­ready given him for­mal in­ter­views — closed-door meet­ings dur­ing which a player is grilled for 15 min­utes by mem­bers of a team’s front of­fice and coach­ing staff on foot­ball and per­sonal mat­ters. Te’o said he had an­other 18 sched­uled. Only then would he fi­nally be able to get to work out for tal­ent eval­u­a­tors.

Ac­cord­ing to Te’o, ev­ery NFL team he talked to had ques­tions re­gard­ing the in­ci­dent, but the length of the prod­ding var­ied.

The 6-foot-1, 255-pound line­backer was run­ner-up for the Heis­man Tro­phy last sea­son, when he helped lead Notre Dame to the Bowl Cham­pi­onship Se­ries ti­tle game. He had been pro­jected as a high first-round pick but there has been spec­u­la­tion that his stock could take a hit as a re­sult of the hoax.

But sev­eral NFL de­ci­sion mak­ers in­di­cated that while they will ques­tion Te’o on the in­ci­dent, their ul­ti­mate con­cern is what kind of line­backer he is.

“We’ll bring him in,” New York Giants Gen­eral Man­ager Jerry Reese said Satur­day. “We’ll let him ex­plain that sit­u­a­tion for us. I think there’s peo­ple with a lot more is­sues than this is­sue. We’re more in­ter­ested in what kind of foot­ball player he is, more than any­thing else. Th­ese things get blown out of pro­por­tion a lit­tle bit. But we’ll in­ves­ti­gate it and see where it goes.”

Said Carolina Pan­thers Coach Ron Rivera: “If he can han­dle that dis­trac­tion and still be able to per­form on the foot­ball field, I really don’t think it makes that much of a dif­fer­ence. What­ever hap­pened is a set of cir­cum­stances that only he really knows what it was all about. We’ll talk about it. We’ll find out about it. The bot­tom line is, is he a good per­son and can he play foot­ball? That’s prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant thing that he’ll have to an­swer.

“I don’t think it’s go­ing to hurt his draft stock. He’s coming here to im­prove his draft stock. I do think he’s a heck of a foot­ball player and I think he’s got a bright fu­ture in this league.”

Af­ter an NFL me­dia re­la­tions worker in­formed ev­ery­one that Te’o’s in­ter­view was over, the line­backer re­mained at the podium a minute longer to re­lay one fi­nal mes­sage.

“I’d just like to thank ev­ery­body for be­ing here,” he said. “It’s been a hard but tremen­dous ride for me and my fam­ily and the Univer­sity of Notre Dame. I’d like to thank my par­ents, my fam­ily, my friends, the Univer­sity of Notre Dame and ev­ery­body who sup­ports me. I couldn’t do it with­out all of you, and just hopefully, af­ter this, I’ve an­swered the things I need to an­swer and, you know, we can move on with foot­ball.”

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