Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o said he had absolutely no role in the bizarre dead girlfriend hoax, though acknowledged that it was “crazy” to be in a relationship with someone he never met.
Speaking to the media for the first time since the story broke Wednesday, Te’o told ESPN in an off-camera interview that he was duped into believing his girlfriend, “Lennay Kekua,” had died of leukemia, and that the perpetrator behind her online persona has since apologized to him.
“No, never,” Te’o told ESPN. “I wasn’t faking it. I wasn’t part of this.”
But even though the Heisman Trophy runner-up said he had no involvement in the hoax, he said he “tailored” his stories to make people think the two had actually met — something that never happened.
“I even knew that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn’t meet,” Te’o said. “People find out this girl who died that I was so invested in, I didn’t meet her as well so I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that yeah, he met her before she passed away, so people didn’t think I was some crazy dude.”
Te’o said Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old acquaintance in California, called him Wednesday and confessed to the prank, the same day Deadspin.com published a massive expose on one of the “defining story lines” of the 2012 college football season.
“Two guys and a girl are responsible for the whole thing,” Te’o said, though said he doesn’t know who all they are. “According to Ronaiah, Ronaiah’s one.”
Te’o said he got a call from someone claiming to be Lennay Kekua on Dec. 6, three months after she supposedly died. Still, he said he still wasn’t entirely sure it had all been a hoax until the story broke Wednesday. He said the Dec. 6 caller had wanted to rekindle their relationship. Te’o said he said no: “My Lennay died on September 12”
“When (people) hear the facts, they’ll know,” Te’o told ESPN. “They’ll know that there is no way that I could be part of this.”