INDIANAPOLIS — Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o faced a long day of questions at the NFL Combine on Saturday: A battery of medical tests first, which all participants go through; then teams and the media asking him about a girlfriend who never existed, the scandalous topic that thrust him into the national news last month.
Te’o claims he was the victim of a hoax, and didn’t know until early December that the girl he thought he had an online and telephone relationship with for a number of years wasn’t real. He answered nearly every question about the situation on Saturday during a 15-minute press conference at the combine, admitting that every team he’s met with has asked him about it, and that he’s looking forward to putting the scandal behind him and move on to football.
“I think, for me, I’ve learned just to be honest, in anything you do,” Te’o said, when asked what he’s taken from the ordeal. “Secondly, to keep your circle very small, and to really understand who’s really in our corner, and who’s not.
“Going off of the season my team and I had (12-1, losing to Alabama in the BCS championship game), there was a lot of people in our corner. Then when January 16 happened, there were a lot of people in the other corner. I just appreciate the people that I have, that are with me, and just to make sure to turn a negative thing into a positive.”
Te’o, who was projected before his senior season to be a top-5 pick in the first round, said he’s met with two teams formally (Packers and Texans), and is scheduled to meet with 18 other teams. Every team he’s been in contact with has asked him about the scandal, with Te’o saying, “They just say, ‘Tell me the facts.’ Some just ask me and [I’ll] give a brief overview of how it was, then they just get straight to business about football. I’ll briefly describe [it] for 30 seconds, and the next 14 minutes, it’s all plays and just getting down to business. That’s how I prefer it to be.”
Te’o said the hardest part was receiving a phone call from his sister, who told him that his family had to sneak out of their own house because there were news outlets and reporters camped outside.
Throughout the press conference — the largest attended in recent memory, according to those who regularly cover the combine — Te’o appeared calm and forthcoming. The only question he chose not to answer was when asked why he wouldn’t meet in person someone he considered his girlfriend.
Admitting that it initially caused him great embarrassment, Te’o said he no longer feels that way, or else he wouldn’t have come to the combine.
Te’o won’t have to deal with the media anymore at the combine; he can concentrate on his interviews with NFL teams, and focus on putting up solid on-field numbers during his workout, which comes Monday. Both, it seems, will impact when he’s selected, and where he goes.
He’s ready for the next step in his journey to becoming a member of the NFL.
“Everybody makes mistakes, and one positive thing about what I went through is I’ve learned to empathize with those who are going through the same thing, those who are going through some hard times, getting attention they don’t necessarily want,” Te’o said. “It just taught me, from going through that, to always just give somebody the benefit of the doubt, because you never know what’s going on.”