* Te'o gives first interview since girlfriend hoax revealed
* Te'o says a friend has admitted he was behind deception
Jan 19 Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o has
denied ever being in on an elaborate hoax, telling ESPN he had
believed his relationship with a woman who turned out to be an
online fabrication was real.
The tragic story of his girlfriend and her injuries from a
car accident and death from leukemia was one of the most widely
recounted U.S. sports stories last year as Notre Dame made a
drive toward the national championship game.
"I wasn't faking it," Te'o told ESPN in an off-camera
interview on Friday, excerpts of which were posted on ESPN.com.
"I wasn't part of this."
When asked whether he had made up the tale to support his
chances of winning the Heisman Trophy, the highest individual
honor for a college football player, Te'o replied: "Well, when
they hear the facts they'll know. They'll know that there is no
way that I could be part of this."
The interview was Te'o's first since the sports blog
Deadspin.com on Wednesday exposed the heart-wrenching tale of
his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, and her death as a hoax and that a
friend of Te'o's named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo was behind it.
Te'o told ESPN that Tuiasosopo called him on Wednesday and
admitted he was behind the hoax and it was then Te'o was sure
the woman had never existed.
"I don't wish an ill thing to somebody," Te'o said of
Tuiasosopo, according to ESPN. "I just hope he learns. I think
embarrassment is big enough."
Outside Tuiasosopo's home in Palmdale, California, on
Thursday, a member of his family who did not identify himself
told reporters they had no comment.
Te'o acknowledged in a statement on Wednesday that he had
never met the woman in person, though he considered her his
girlfriend and said he had been duped.
In the ESPN interview, Te'o said he tried to video chat with
her several times, but she could never be seen on the other end.
He also said he intentionally told people stories about her in a
way that would make people believe they had met in person.
"I even knew that it was crazy that I was with somebody that
I didn't meet," Te'o said.
ESPN said the interview was held at a training facility in
Florida where Te'o has been preparing for the National Football
League draft. The star linebacker was expected to be a high
draft pick before the hoax was revealed.
Te'o sprang to national prominence last fall when he led
Notre Dame to a victory over Michigan State within days of
learning his grandmother and girlfriend had both died. The
grandmother's death was real.
The story grew to become a big feature in coverage of the
team, which went undefeated in the regular season and reached
the national championship game. Alabama defeated Notre Dame in
the title game on Jan. 7.
Notre Dame, one of the most powerful institutions in U.S.
collegiate athletics, held a news conference within hours of the
Deadspin.com article to say that Te'o had been duped.
Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said on Friday
the Indiana university was comfortable, based on a private
investigation it launched and on four years experience with
Te'o, that he was the victim and encouraged Te'o to speak
(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Eric