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Te'o tackles combine queries

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 7:39 p.m.
FILE - In this Oct. 27, 2012, file photo, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o (5) celebrates with teammate Stephon Tuitt (7) after an interception against Oklahoma in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla. Te'o is a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

INDIANAPOLIS — Manti Te'o was polite, composed, organized, candid, remorseful, apologetic. And more than a little embarrassed.

This was worse than going against Alabama's we'll-show-him offense, worse than trying to look through all those inquisitive stares whenever he ventures into a public that remains as curious as ever about his more-than-curious true confessional.

Te'o met with a large group of media members Saturday for the first time since the disclosure that the star linebacker's supposedly deceased girlfriend, one who became a sympathetic story line during Notre Dame's run to the national title game, was a piece of fiction. It was instead the work of a love-struck male admirer who engaged him in hours of phone calls, all while disguising as a beautiful woman.

As he looked around a Lucas Oil Stadium conference room filled with more-than-fascinated reporters who were filled with questions, Te'o had a single response.

“It's pretty crazy,” Te'o said.

Or much the same reaction that millions likely had when they learned that Lennay Kekua, the fictional girlfriend and Stanford student who supposedly died of leukemia late in the Fighting Irish's unbeaten regular season, was myth.

Te'o talked openly of being less than candid, of bringing embarrassment to the real-life family that he loves deeply.

“For anybody to go through (this), it's definitely embarrassing,” said the well-prepared Te'o, who was open and, at times, engaging during his 15-minute NFL Scouting Combine news conference. “When you're walking through grocery stores and you're kind of like giving people “double-takes to see if they're staring at you, it's definitely embarrassing.”

NFL teams, including the Steelers, don't want to see embarrassment or contriteness; they want to see leadership and honesty.

“They want to be able to trust their player,” Te'o said. “You don't want to invest in somebody you can't trust.”

And the first question out of each of the 20 teams that will interview him this weekend is likely to be the same.

“They've wanted to hear it from me what the truth was,” Te'o said.

For months, Te'o and the Irish were a transfixing feel-good story. Then it all vanished with a bad loss and an unimaginable story that truly was stranger than fiction.

“I could have done some things different, obviously, done a lot of things different to avoid all this stuff,” said Te'o, who kept the story going even after he learned that Kekua never existed.

And what has he learned during weeks of scrutiny?

“It just taught me to always give somebody the benefit of the doubt and say, ‘You never know, you never know what's going on with a person,' ” Te'o said.

Now, 32 teams have until April 25 to decide what's going on with Te'o. And whether they should give him the benefit of the doubt or, simply, give him a pass.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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