Manti Te'o faces media at combine

Updated: February 25, 2013, 12:04 PM ET
By Bill Williamson | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Manti Te'o suddenly went from being one of the most celebrated college players in the country to the most scrutinized.

On Saturday, he continued to face the music regarding the bizarre saga involving a girlfriend that never existed.

It's definitely embarrassing. When you walk into the grocery store and you get people giving double takes and they're sitting there staring at you, it's definitely embarrassing. I guess its part of the process, part of the journey. It's only going to make me stronger and it definitely has.

-- Manti Te'o
In perhaps the most anticipated player news conference in NFL scouting combine history, the highly decorated Notre Dame middle linebacker answered questions from a massive media horde Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Media filled the interview area in anticipation of Te'o's session when word spread that his session would start within the hour. Several minutes later, word came out it would be delayed for more than a couple of hours. When Te'o finally met the media Saturday, it was in front of an overflow crowd.

"It's pretty crazy," Te'o said in one of the lighter moments of his session. "I've been in front of a few cameras but not as many as this."

Instead of taking about be a potential top-five pick, Te'o spent his media session discussing his role in a hoax that first broke in January.

Te'o appeared at times calm and emotional, politely and patiently answering every question, nearly all of them centered on the hoax. Te'o ended his media session by thanking Notre Dame, his family and everyone who helped him cope in the past several weeks. He said wants to focus on football from this point forward.

When Te'o took the podium he quickly said he has spoken of everything he planned to about the situation. He then talked freely about the issues.

"It's definitely embarrassing," Te'o said. "When you walk into the grocery store and you get people giving double takes and they're sitting there staring at you , it's definitely embarrassing. I guess its part of the process, part of the journey. It's only going to make me stronger and it definitely has."

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo admitted he was behind an Internet relationship between Te'o and a fabricated woman named Lennay Kekua. The two allegedly communicated for several months on the Internet but never met in person. Te'o told reporters in September the woman died of leukemia after being in an auto accident. It became a theme of Te'o's season, ended in a loss to Alabama in the Discover BCS National Championship.

Te'o continued to talk about the woman in media interviews after he found out about the hoax in December. Previously, he had recounted times of them being together and gave conflicting accounts of how they met. Still, Tuiasosopo and Te'o have maintained he was not part of the hoax but the victim.

"I could have done things different," Te'o said Saturday. "I think I've learned, first, to be honest in everything I do, the big things and the small things. Also to keep your circle very small and really understand who is in your corner and who is not. Going off of the season my team and I had, there was a lot of people in my corner. Then when January 16 happened, there was a lot of other people in the other corner. I just learned to appreciate and just always turn a negative thing into a positive. ... It could be a hurdle but it could also be an opportunity to show how you really are. That's the way I have approached it and it's been a big learning experience for me."

Te'o said he most feels for his family and the family name. He said he felt badly for putting his parents in a negative light "for actions I committed."

In addition to answering questions from the media, several NFL teams want to know what Te'o has to say at the combine. Te'o has met with Houston and Green Bay and he has meetings set with 18 other teams. He said the hoax was a topic in both interviews and he expects it to be a topic in the other 18. He said he understands why teams want to address the issue.

"They want to be able to trust their player," Te'o said. "You don't want to invest in someone they can't trust. Everybody here, they're just trying to get to know you. They're trying to get to know you as a person and a football player. ... They want to hear from me what the truth was and they haven't really said anything about it really affecting me Some guys we just talked briefly describe for 30 seconds and next 14 minutes about plays and just getting down to business."

There have been differing opinions on whether the hoax will hurt Te'o's draft standing. Prior to the hoax, he was considered a top-five pick. Now, many people around the league think he will go lower in the first round. ESPN.com draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay currently have Te'o being selected at No. 13 and No. 20 in their respective mock drafts.

Te'o said he was not worried about backlash or being the butt of jokes in an NFL locker room.

"I learned the difference between the things I can control and the things I can't control," Te'o said. "By doing the things I can control well, I'll have more favor in the other category. Whatever team I go to, I'm just going to be me and work hard and just going to do my best to help the team win. Whatever happens, happens."

Broncos vice president John Elway said at the combine that he is simply waiting to hear Te'o's side of the story. Denver had a need at middle linebacker and could conceivably take Te'o if he is available at No. 28.

"I just want to talk to him," Elway said Friday. "Personally, I don't get caught up in everything that is swirling around him. I'm looking forward to sitting down and talking to him. I know him as a football player. He's a very good football player. He's going to have a successful career in the NFL. I'm looking forward to sitting down and talking to him."

Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com contributed to this report.

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN Oakland Raiders reporter

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