During his 15-minute interview Saturday, Manti T'eo was contrite, humble and answered every question. (Associated Press)
Indianapolis — If I was an NFL general manager or coach, the only issues I would have with linebacker Manti Te'o are size and speed.
I no longer have any concerns about his character, his maturity or his integrity.
During his 15-minute interview Saturday, he was contrite, humble and answered every question. He made no excuses for himself and wished no ill will on Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man who claimed responsibility for the Internet hoax that duped Te'o into a long-term relationship with a woman who didn't exist.
It's hard for me to imagine any other 22-year-old person handling the situation any better than Te'o did on Saturday.
"I've said all I needed to say about that," Te'o said. "Going forward, I am just going to do what I'm doing. Focus on the moment, focus on football and being at the Combine. Not everybody gets the opportunity to be here. I am sure there's thousands of people who'd like to be in Indianapolis. I am just trying to enjoy the moment."
The questions were all asked again.
Why did you play so poorly against Alabama (in the national championship game) and did the incident distract you?
"I just didn't (play well); that's all on me," he said. "I played hard and so did my team. Alabama had a great game plan and so did we. They just executed better than we did."
How do you explain what happened?
"It's just that I cared for somebody and that was what I was taught to do," he said. "When someone needs help, you help them out. Unfortunately, it didn't end up the way I thought it would."
Why didn't you come forward sooner?
"It was just a whirlwind of stuff for me," he said. "I was 21 at the time and I was just trying to get my thoughts right. Everything was just kind of chaos at the time and you wanted to let the chaos die down and wait until everybody was ready to listen."
Why didn't you attempt to see the woman face to face?
"I did," he said. "We made plans. Obviously it didn't work out."
Did the incident embarrass you?
"Definitely," he said, with a chuckle. "You walk into a grocery store and you kind of do a double take to see if they are staring at you. It's embarrassing. I guess it's part of the process, part of the journey, but it's only going to make me stronger. It definitely has. But if I was still embarrassed I wouldn't be standing here."
Does he have any lingering regrets?
"I could've done some things different," he said. "I could've done a lot to avoid all this stuff. But through all that I experienced my senior year, I wouldn't do anything different."
Whatever innocence and naivete Te'o had when he left Oahu for Notre Dame is gone now. To his credit, though, he seems more emboldened than embittered.
"For me, I've learned just to be honest in anything you do, from big things to little things," he said. "Keep your circle very small and really understand who's in your corner and who's not.
"After the season my team and I had, there were a lot of people in our corner. When Jan. 16 happened (word of the hoax), there were a lot of people in the other corner. I have learned to appreciate the people I have that are with me."
The notoriety hurt him for sure, but the stress it put on his family hurt him worse.
"The hardest part wasn't necessarily seeing my first name but seeing my last name out there like that," he said. "Everybody here, you treasure your last name. That's what you hold dear. When you pass on, the only that stays here is your last name. So to see my last name everywhere and know I represent family was tough."
He was asked what the toughest moment was for him in the entire ordeal and he talked about a phone call he got from his sister.
"She told me they had to sneak my family into our home because there were people (media) parked in the yard and stuff like that," he said. "That was the hardest part for me. Something I've always had a problem with was when I can't do something about it. I can't help. To know my family was in that situation because of actions I committed was the hardest."
His sister wanted to know why, Te'o said. Why was this all happening? He didn't have an answer for her.
"It should never get that way," he said. "As people we have to realize we are all people. Somebody is somebody's son or somebody's daughter. I try to picture it that way. Would you want somebody doing this to your son or daughter? If not, why do it?"
The almost complete absence of anger or resentment was impressive to me. He wasn't standing up there as a victim, but as a young man who screwed up, who got suckered and wants to move on from it.
Asked if he thought about taking legal action against Tuiasosopo, Te'o said, "That would be the worst thing you could do. Both families are going through chaos. Not only are people parking outside my house, people are camped out at his house, too. I went through what I went through and he went through what he went through.
"If you forgive, you will get the majority of the blessings. I always try to forgive."
Is heart and hustle enough?
NFL executives will most likely forgive Te'o for being catfished. They will, however, question him intently about why he initially lied about it. He understands that.
"They want to be able to trust their player; you don't want to invest in somebody you can't trust," he said. "With everybody here, they're trying to get to know you, trying to get to know you as a person and as a football player. I understand where they are coming from.
"It could be a hurdle, but it could also be a good opportunity to show who you really are. That's the way I am approaching it."
Mike Mayock, draft analyst from NFL.com, said some teams write it off as a youthful mistake and others will really focus on the fact he initially lied.
"Up until this story became public, he had a plus, plus, plus intangible grade," Mayock said. "Was he going to become Ray Lewis? Could he galvanize a locker room? He had a huge intangible grade that would push his on-the-field grade higher. I think he's lost all of that.
"At best, it's now going to be neutral. Just, hey, what kind of player you are, and where can we slot you?"
Where he is slotted will be determined by how fast he runs the 40 and how he grades out in the other drills. His body of work at Notre Dame, fair or not, will be marred by the Alabama game.
"What I bring to the table is a lot of heart, a lot of energy and somebody who works hard and hates to lose," Te'o said. "I hate to lose more than I like to win and the reason I like to win is not to have that feeling of losing.
"For every team, I tell them you will get somebody that's humble, who works hard and doesn't say much and who will do everything it takes to win."