Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o tried again on Saturday to outrun the scrutiny that has haunted him since it was learned he had a relationship with a fake girlfriend, but the media covering the NFL Scouting Combine caught up to him.
After first telling a gathering of more than 300 reporters that he had said all he needed to say about the hoax, Te'o finally succumbed to the media's persistence and said the entire ordeal "got overwhelming at times" and was "definitely embarrassing."
"I could have done some things different, obviously, could have done a lot of things different to avoid all this stuff," Te'o said. "I guess it's part of the process, part of the journey. It's only going to make me stronger. It definitely has."
Te'o's appearance at the combine, where he is scheduled to meet privately with 20 NFL teams, including the Buccaneers, was his first encounter with the media in an uncontrolled environment since news of the hoax broke last month.
However, the media session did not mark the first time this week that Te'o has been asked about the hoax. Te'o said representatives from all of the NFL's 32 teams asked him about it during an informal meeting period with a group of prospects.
"They want to hear it from me — what the truth was," he said. "Some go to certain lengths, some just (say) 'Give me a brief overview of how it was,' and then they get straight to business. That's how I prefer it to be."
Te'o said the facts of the matter are that he cared for someone whom he believed existed and thought he had a relationship with and that once the hoax was revealed, he decided to wait to tell his side of the story until the chaos died down.
"From our point of view we wanted everything to come out first and then have my side come out," Te'o said. "The way we did it I felt worked best for me. I'm very grateful for those who helped me to get through that time. I felt it went as smoothly as it could."
But his decision to wait has left some NFL scouts and team executives to wonder if they can trust a player who waited to divulge the truth to his family, school, coaches and teammates.
It also appears to have dramatically affected his draft stock. Once a potential top-five selection who ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper pegged as a possible pick for the Bucs at No. 13, Te'o is now considered more like a top-20 selection.
"Te'o should come off the board somewhere around 19 or 20," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who also broadcasts Notre Dame games on NBC.
"People don't love him the way they did before."
Te'o said he understands how the controversy could affect a team's impressions of him. Though a player's football abilities are paramount, teams also care a great deal about the character traits each player displays off the field.
"They want to be able to trust their player," he said. "You don't want to invest in somebody you can't trust. They're just trying to get to know you as a person and as a football player. I understand where they're coming from."