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    Manti Te’o tells ESPN he was not involved in hoax

    Manti Te'o told ESPN on Friday that he ‘‘wasn’t part’’ of the girlfriend hoax, but he did acknowledge tailoring his stories to lead people to believe that he had met her in person before her death.

    It was the first time that Te'o, the Notre Dame all-American linebacker, expanded on his side of a story that has gripped the country in recent days. Until Wednesday, the often-retold story was that Te'o’s dominant season, in which he led Notre Dame to the BCS national championship game, was inspired by playing through the pain of the early-season deaths of his girlfriend and grandmother.

    But Te'o told ESPN in an off-camera interview that ‘‘I wasn’t faking it.’’


    He said he did not make up the story of a girlfriend who had died to bolster his chances of winning the Heisman Trophy. He finished second to Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel.

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    When people ‘‘hear the facts, they'll know,’’ he told ESPN. ‘‘They'll know that there is no way that I could be part of this.’’

    ESPN said Te'o was interviewed for 2 1/2 hours while at the IMG Training Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where is preparing for the NFL draft.

    Te'o told ESPN that he had embellished the story of the relationship at times because it would have been too embarrassing for people to know that he didn’t meet her before her death. That apparently included lying to his father, who shared stories with reporters about their meetings.

    He said the relationship began on Facebook through a mutual connection. He said he tried to video chat with her through Skype and FaceTime, but it didn’t work out. He learned on Dec. 6 that things may not have been what they seemed. He said a person who was said to be behind the hoax had reached out to him to apologize two days ago through Twitter.


    Notre Dame, which had stood by him through the aftermath of the hoax, had been pushing Te'o to go public and tell his story. Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, in a podcast released Friday, said he did not fault those who did not believe Te'o or the university’s account of events surrounding the hoax. Swarbrick said he understood that those doubts would not be eased until Te'o came forward.

    He said, ‘‘Skepticism was easy to understand.’’

    Swarbrick said that because of their silence, Te'o and his family had ‘‘lost the opportunity to, in some ways, control the story.’’

    Before Friday’s revelation, Te'o’s only statement came Wednesday evening, when he said he was the target of ‘‘what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies,’’ calling it ‘‘painful and humiliating.’’

    The same night, Swarbrick held a news conference, saying that even after an investigation, he still had full faith in Te'o.


    But through all of Thursday and much of Friday, Te'o remained silent, even as new alleged revelations about his story swirled, including a tale of confession from the supposed mastermind.

    On Friday morning, ESPN reported that Ronaiah Tuisasosopo phoned a friend from church in early December and admitted to being behind a plan to trick Te'o into believing he was in a relationship with a girl who had died, according to the friend, who was identified only as a woman in her 20s.

    The woman told ESPN that Tuisasosopo, who has not come forward publicly, was crying when he made his admission. The story suggested that Te'o did not participate in the hoax.

    Tuisasosopo ‘‘told me that Manti was not involved at all, he was a victim,’’ ESPN quoted the woman as saying.

    As details have trickled out since the Deadspin website broke the story Wednesday of the dead girlfriend hoax, Swarbrick said he has continued to stand by Te'o, who reported the situation to the university Dec. 26.

    ''Everything I have access to right now does nothing to shake my belief in Manti,’’ Swarbrick said, adding that he’s ‘‘overwhelmed with the cruelty of this.’’

    He continued, ‘‘There is just a core cruelty here which is just very sad for me and a terrible statement about where we are today and how social media is a tool in some really bad stuff.’’

    Swarbrick said Te'o and his family had initially planned to come out with the story on their own next week.

    ‘'Sometimes the best-laid plans don’t quite work,’’ he said.

    Te'o’s mother, Otillia, answered the door at the family’s home in Laie, Hawaii, and said ‘‘we’re not talking to the press.’’ She added that the family had not determined if it would make a statement.