Manti Te'o broke his silence late Friday and denied any involvement in the dead girlfriend hoax that has consumed the former Notre Dame All-American for days, while saying the man behind the ruse called two days ago to apologize for it.
"I wasn't faking it," Te'o told ESPN's Jeremy Schaap in an off-camera interview Friday night. "I wasn't part of this."
A 22-year-old named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo allegedly preyed upon Te'o in creating a bogus woman named Lennay Kekua who began an online- and telephone-only relationship with Te'o, Notre Dame's bellwether linebacker, only to die in September of leukemia and create a personal back story that propelled Te'o to national renown but ultimately crumbled this week.
Schaap reported after a 2 1/2-hour interview with Te'o that the player wasn't sure Kekua did not exist until two days ago when Tuiasosopo called Te'o to admit he was behind the hoax and apologize for it.
As for at least one glaring inconsistency the story of how Te'o and Kekua met the former Irish star admitted to a lie. The relationship, such as it was, began during Te'o's sophomore year at Notre Dame via Facebook, he told ESPN. He tried to contact Kekua via Skype and Facetime but never saw a face on the other end, Te'o said.
And as for the story of meeting Kekua on the field at Stanford in 2009, a tale retold by his father in October, Te'o said: "I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away."
ESPN reported Friday that Tuiasosopo called a friend from church in early December and admitted he duped Te'o, without the Notre Dame linebacker playing a part in the deception. Deadspin.com, which broke the girlfriend hoax story Wednesday, reported that Te'o might have played a role in the fraud.
Te'o denied that he used the situation to enhance his Heisman Trophy candidacy. He finished second in the voting to Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.
"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."
Te'o did say the ordeal weighed on him during Notre Dame's 42-14 loss to Alabama in the BCS title game, in which he played arguably one of the worst games of his career.
"It affected me," Te'o said. "When you're stuck in a big game like that people depend on you. You need to perform."
Levi Te'o, born five days before his cousin Manti, earlier Friday offered this explanation for his cousin's predicament: An innate trusting, open and caring nature ultimately betrayed him.
"I completely vouch for him because I know that's how Manti is," Levi Te'o told the Tribune in a phone interview. "I know that he's really trustworthy. It may take a little bit for you to gain his trust, but when you do, it's pretty strong. He's a very strong-personality kind of guy. He loves everybody. It's just sad to see someone take advantage of him like that, knowing that he was like that."
That's what Tuiasosopo allegedly preyed upon in creating Kekua. ESPN also reported it spoke to two people who said they also have a cousin who had the same hoax pulled on them by Tuiasosopo.
In early December, the voice claiming to be Kekua resurfaced. Te'o received a call Dec. 6 from a person claiming to be Kekua, Notre Dame said Wednesday. To explain her prolonged silence and apparent rising from the grave, a duly preposterous explanation was concocted: Kekua had faked her death to avoid drug dealers, she told Te'o.
That story was first reported by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and confirmed to the Tribune by a source with knowledge of the situation. The source also confirmed that Te'o asked for time-stamped, photographic proof of Kekua's apparently renewed existence, which he received.
Notre Dame said Te'o reported the situation to coaches Dec. 26.