Former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, whose Internet dating issues have been in the news just a little bit in the last month or so, now says that he simply hopes to travel to the scouting combine in Indianapolis this week, and let his football accomplishments tell the story. In a Monday interview with Jim Corbett of USA Today, Te'o -- who's been training at IMG in Florida in preparation for the draft process -- said that he's shut down the Twitter account that got him in a catfishing scandal, and that his mind is on what he has to do in Indianapolis.
"I have to just go out there and perform and all that other stuff is behind me," Te'o told Corbett. "What I did on the field is what I did on the field. I don't think what I did with this whole situation, I don't understand how it takes away from what I did on the field ... As far as my stock dropping or rising, that's not up to me. The only thing I have to do is just do well, run fast, just be myself, be quick."
Well, he'll have to do more than that. Te'o, the Heisman runner-up who was once seen by some to be a top-10 pick in the upcoming draft, will have to answer a litany of questions from 32 NFL teams who will want to know how he was hoaxed into believing that a woman named Lennay Kekua had fallen in love with him, when that was most certainly not the case. A Deadspin report on Jan. 16 revealed the truth -- that Te'o was a victim of the increasing "catfishing" trend, and that he knew about the hoax long before it was known to the public.
Does Te'o worry about how those interviews will go?
"I didn't do anything illegal," he told Corbett. "I didn't break any rules, I didn't hurt anybody. I just wasn't very forthcoming, as forthcoming as I should have been but in that, I didn't do anything wrong ... I have to just be myself. For me, the greatest fault would be to tell somebody something I'm not. And when it's time to do the interviews, just be myself and everything will fall into place."
That's the hope, but draft analysts are divided on how much Te'o can help himself when talking to teams. One thing's for sure -- if he's found to be anything but 100 percent truthful in those interviews, he's in big trouble.
"He's going to have to run the gauntlet at the combine," Charles Davis of the NFL Network told Corbett. "Because in those 15-minute meetings, teams are going to smoke him over pretty well. Probably more so to see how he holds up. Plain and simple, he got punked. ... It's a societal problem. We're seeing it in Manti Te'o, who is a kid. Teams are going to make sure they have it right."
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock discussed Te'o on a Monday media call. Like most analysts, he still has Te'o going in the first round.
"The Te'o thing is interesting," Mayock said. "I've talked at length about it. But where should he sit as a football player, I think plus or minus 20 in the first round is about where he should fit. Ultimately, I think he's going to go in that range. I think there are some teams that don't like him as much because of what's happened. But I think when it's all said and done, people are going to get a good vibe from this kid when they meet him and get to know him. So I think he'll go plus or minus 20."
All Te'o can do now, as he told Corbett, is prove that he's a talented guy who messed up and still wants to play at a very high level.
"I just want them to know, whoever picks me just let them know that you're choosing someone who loves the game," Te'o said. "I want to be the best at it. It's because of my work ethic that I've come this far."
This week in Indianapolis, he'll start to see whether he'll backslide at all.
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