Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, at the center of attention for his alleged pseudo-relationship with a girl that did not exist, broke his silence Friday in an interview wth ESPN.
Te’o insisted that the report of his deceased “girlfriend” was a complete hoax, in line with the statement issued earlier in the week from Notre Dame. According to Te’o, the person at the hub of the duping has since apologized to him.
In an off-camera ESPN interview, Te'o identified that person as Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a former high-school quarterback and a 22-year-old acquaintance of Te’o who lives in Palmdale, CA.
"I wasn't faking it," ESPN quoted Te'o as saying during the lengthy interview. "I wasn't part of this. When they hear the facts they'll know. They'll know there is no way I could be a part of this."
The elaborate hoax has gripped the nation, and has affected everything from Vegas odds-makers to Manti’s potential NFL draft status.
On Thursday, reporters from around the country flooded the Palmdale cul-de-sac with cameras and news trucks, hoping to probe into who Ronaiah Tuiasosopo is, and the motivation to create, and then “kill off,” an online girlfriend, whose made up name was Lennay Kekua.
Neighbors came out from the usually quite neighborhood, gaping at the media maze. Some openly expressed annoyance, including one neighbor who turned on his lawn sprinklers in at attempt to chase reporters away.
Ayo Adeneye, who lives next to the Tuiasosopo family, expressed surprised at the scandal and supported his neighbor and family.
"I can say they're really good people," said Adeneye, 43. "One of them is a pastor. Sometimes they have services here. They also go to a Methodist church."
Te’o revealed in the ESPN interview that he first met Tuiasosopo in November of last year after the Southern California game. Tuiasosopo told Te’o he was the cousin of Kekua, the woman who Te'o believed he had fallen in love with via internet chats, texts and long phone conversations.
"Two guys and a girl are responsible for the whole thing," Te'o told ESPN. "I don't know. According to Ronaiah, Ronaiah's one."
Te'o was the hub of national prominence after leading his Fighting Irish to an undefeated regular season, while rolling up impressive stats that got the attention of NFL football scouts throughout the country.
Becoming the face of Notre Dame’s defense, Te'o told interviewers in the fall that his grandmother and his girlfriend, who he described as a 22-year old Stanford student, had both died within hours of each other.
The tragic timing of the losses roused him to excel with sterling play on the field, Te'o said, leading his team to a routing of Michigan State shortly after he heard the news.
"I miss 'em, but I know that I'll see them again one day," he told ESPN.
Many have questioned whether or not Te’o was involved in the hoax, citing statements Te’o and his family made about face-to-face meetings with Kekua, which we now understand never occurred.
The South Bend Tribune, the Indiana newspaper from Notre Dame's hometown, stated the couple met at a 2009 football game in Palo Alto, CA. The article quotes Te'o's father and tells how his son and Kekua met, shook hands and exchanged phone numbers.
In the interview Friday, Te'o said he lied to his father about the meeting because he was embarrassed to tell his family that he was in love with a woman he had actually never met.
"I knew that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn't meet," he told ESPN. "And that alone, people find out that this girl who died I was so invested in, and I didn't meet her as well."
After the two-and-a-half hour interview, veteran sports reporter Schaap said Te'o's story sounded convincing.
"He made a very convincing witness to his defense," Schapp said on ESPN. "He answered all my questions pretty convincingly. If he is making up his side of the story, he is a very convincing actor."