FORT WAYNE — Manti Te’o denied any involvement in a hoax involving him and an online relationship with a woman who supposedly died that became an inspirational story during the college football season.
The Notre Dame All-American linebacker agreed to an off-camera interview late Friday night with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
“I wasn’t faking it. I wasn’t part of this,” Te’o told Schaap in a portion of the interview posted on ESPN’s website. “When (people) hear the facts, they’ll know. They’ll know that there is no way that I could be part of this.”
Te’o had previously said he had formed a relationship with a woman named Lennay Kekua, and that his girlfriend died in September, just hours after his grandmother.
Te’o said the hoax affected his performance in Notre Dame’s 42-14 loss to Alabama in the BCS championship game Jan. 7.
A story published Wednesday on Deadspin.com revealed that Kekua, who died after a battle with leukemia, never existed.
Te’o said he wasn’t fully convinced Kekua didn’t exist until Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the California man being identified as the mastermind of the fraud, apologized to him for the fraud through a Twitter message on Wednesday. He also said he first met Tuiasosopo on Nov. 24 after Notre Dame beat USC.
ESPN.com reported earlier Friday that a church friend of Tuiasosopo said Tuiasosopo admitted in December to being behind the scheme.
“I hope he understands what he’s done,” Te’o said of Tuiasosopo. “I don’t wish an ill thing to somebody. I just hope he learns. I think embarrassment is big enough."
Te’o told Schaap the relationship with Kekua started over Facebook during his sophomore year at Notre Dame.
He also said he lied to his father about meeting Kekua face to face. That led to Brian Te’o telling reporters how they had met.
Te’o insisted he never met Kekua. He said he tried to communicate with her through Skype and FaceTime, but the person at the other end could never be seen.
Te’o admitted to tailoring his story to make it appear that he had met her before she died.
“I even knew that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn’t meet,” Te’o said. “And that alone people find out that this girl who died I was so invested in, and I didn’t meet her as well.”
During a Wednesday news conference, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Te’o received a call from a woman claiming to be Kekua on Dec. 6 when he was at an ESPN postseason award show in Orlando, Fla. Te’o spoke of his girlfriend on at least two occasions after Dec. 6.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser posted a story on its website, saying a source close to the Te’o family told the paper that a woman, whose voice Te’o associated with Kekua, told the linebacker in December she had to fake her death to elude drug dealers.
Swarbrick said the university had investigated and found Te’o to be the victim of a hoax after the player informed the coaching staff of the situation on Dec. 26. The university shared the results of the investigation with the Te’os Jan. 5 and left it to them to reveal the hoax.
“I’ll be OK,” Te’o told ESPN. “As long as my family’s OK, I’ll be fine.”