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Manti Te'o fields questions about scandal at NFL combine

The former Notre Dame linebacker shows poise, humility and remorse while answering questions about his involvement in a fake-dead-girlfriend hoax.

February 23, 2013|By Sam Farmer
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INDIANAPOLIS — Manti Te'o completed his most grueling drill of the NFL scouting combine Saturday and, though his heart rate might have been up, he didn't appear to break a sweat.

Facing a sea of reporters for the first time since news broke of the fake-dead-girlfriend hoax, the former Notre Dame linebacker stood at the lectern and answered questions for 14 minutes, showing poise, humility and remorse about his involvement — even though his level of participation in the ruse remains unclear.

"It's definitely embarrassing," said Te'o, who previously sat for interviews with ESPN and Katie Couric, but had not faced the media en masse. "You're walking through a grocery store and people are just standing there staring at you. It's definitely embarrassing. I guess it's part of the process and part of the journey. But it's only going to make me stronger, and it definitely has."

Some reporters staked out spots before the main dais for more than two hours to be in prime position for the Te'o news conference, and the linebacker appeared to outdraw even Tim Tebow, who attracted a massive media turnout in 2010.

Despite the scandal, Te'o is widely projected as a first-round pick. As of Saturday afternoon, he had had formal interviews with the Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers, and was scheduled to sit for interviews with 18 more teams. At evening events, the coaches and staffs from all teams have access to the prospects on a more informal meet-and-greet basis.

Te'o said "quite a few teams" asked him about the hoax, in which he insists he wasn't a participant.

"Some go to certain lengths, some just ask me, 'Just give me a brief overview of how it was,' then they got straight to business," he said.

He said he expects the questions from teams.

"They want to be able to trust their player," he said. "You don't want to invest in somebody who you can't trust. With everybody here, they're just trying to get to know you as a person and as a football player. I understand what they're doing."

Asked whether he has a "hurdle" in the honesty department when it comes to impressing teams, Te'o said: "It could be a hurdle, but it also could be an opportunity to show who you really are. That's the way I've approached it, and it's been a great growing experience for me."

To some NFL evaluators, Te'o's poor play in the Bowl Championship Series title game against Alabama was more troubling than the sympathy-evoking girlfriend scam.

He said the hoax was not a distraction leading up to the Alabama game, and that he didn't play well "because I didn't."

"That's all on me," he said. "I played hard and so did my team, but Alabama had a great game plan, and so did we. They executed better than we did."

Standing at a lectern and wearing the multicolored workout clothes issued to all combine invitees, Te'o spoke softly and calmly. His voice never wavered, but his eyes welled a bit when talking about how the situation has affected his family.

"The toughest moment, to be honest with you, was a phone call from my sister where she told me that they had to sneak my own family in their home because there were people parked out in the yard and stuff like that," he said.

"That had to be the hardest part. And for me, something that I've always had a problem with is when I can't do something about it; I can't help. To know that my family was in this situation because of the actions I committed was definitely the hardest part for me."

Casual interest

Millions of kids dream of one day playing in the NFL.

Sharrif Floyd didn't. The Florida defensive tackle and potential No. 1 pick didn't pay a bit of attention to pro football throughout much of his childhood. In fact, he had never watched a game until tuning in to Super Bowl XLI to watch the Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears six years ago.

Floyd said he didn't know anything about the NFL so he wasn't especially interested.

"Even when I started playing there was no interest in watching it," he said, "because I liked to play it instead of sitting down and being still and watching a game while all my friends were jumping around and getting excited for no reason."

And what did he prefer to watch?

"Disney Channel."

Film study

The top guard in this class is Alabama's Chance Warmack, whose parents named him after a character in a movie they liked.

It could have been the bulldog, Chance, from "Homeward Bound," or maybe Chance the gardener from "Being There."

Asked which movie produced his name, Warmack shrugged.

"I don't know," he said. "I wasn't there. I wasn't born yet."

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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