INDIANAPOLIS -- Clearly, when former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o went in front of the football media at the scouting combine to answer questions about the catfishing scandal that won't go away, he knew the questions would be coming thick and fast from a huge media scrum. That's exactly what happened, and it happened twice. The NFL Network originally announced that Te'o would speak at noon Eastern Time, but that was scrapped, and the media went about its business.
Two and a half hours later, Te'o actually did take the podium and answered a series of questions about the "fake girlfriend" issue, how it has affected his status as a draft prospect, his overall perspective on life, and his future.
Te'o said that he's met with two NFL teams so far in Indianapolis --the Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers -- and that he'll meet with at least 18 more before his combine process is over. He also talked about the possibility of replacing Ray Lewis in Baltimore as an inside linebacker, and as a person of some controversy. He also talked about the Fighting Irish's loss to Alabama in the BCS Championship game, a contest in which Te'o was exposed as a linebacker who couldn't always put away and shed blocks as a run-stopper.
"I played hard, and so did my team, but Alabama had a great game plan, and so did we," Te'o said of that game. "They just executed better than we did."
Te'o said that the teams he's talked to just wanted to hear the facts from his own mouth about the catfishing issue.
"I cared for somebody, and that's what I was taught to do from an early age," he said about the incident. "When somebody needs help, you help them out. Unfortunately, that didn't end up the way I thought it would.
"It was a whirlwind of stuff for me -- a 21-year-old kid, trying to get my thoughts straight," he said of the aftereffects, and the very managed way in which he went about the post-scandal media message. "We wanted to let everything come out, and then have my side out there. The way that we did it, I felt, worked best for me. I'm just very grateful to those who helped me get through that time. I think it went as smoothly as it could."
Well, that's questionable. From a pure football perspective, Te'o's sub-par performance in the BCS game, combined with his refusal to participate in Senior Bowl week, means that he lost valuable time putting the focus back on him as a pure player. That's something he can only do in athletic drills at the combine. From there, it's about trying to impress NFL teams, cleaning up the damage, and hoping that the league will spend far less time on the ancillary stuff than the media has.
Te'o said that the teams that have talked to him generally spent a small amount of time on the scandal stuff, and far more on football questions. And there are valid questions about his football acumen -- personally, I have him as the third-best linebacker in this draft, behind LSU's Kevin Minter and Georgia's Alec Ogletree, though Ogletree has some real red flags of his own.
"I just want to get down to business -- that's how I'd prefer it to be," he said. "I've learned the difference between the things I can control and the things I can't. And I Just want the team I go to to know that I'm going to work hard, and do my best to help the team win."
Te'o said that the hardest part of the fallout was what it did to his family. He recalled one incident in which his sister called him to say that she had to sneak her parents into the family home to avoid the throng of reporters and photographers camped out on the front lawn.
"Something that I've always had a problem with is when I can't do something about [a situation] and when I can't help," he said. "To know my family was in the situation because of the actions I committed was definitely the hardest part for me."
Te'o ended his press conference with a prepared closing statement, which was certainly unusual.
"In closing, I’d like to thank everybody for being here. It’s been a hard but tremendous ride for me and my family and the University of Notre Dame. I’d like to thank my parents, my family, my friends, the University of Notre Dame and everybody who supports me. I couldn’t do it without all of you. Hopefully after this I answered the things I needed to answer and we can move on with football.
"So thank you, everybody."
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