Saying "There is no way I could be part of this," Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o portrayed himself as a victim late Friday in an interview with ESPN about the revelation that his supposed girlfriend who died of leukemia never existed.
Te'o did admit he stretched the truth to his father and reporters, intimating he had met her in person, because he feared the embarrassment of admitting he had never actually met someone he was so invested in.
The Heisman Trophy runner-up broke his silence two days after the website Deadspin reported the hoax with a 2 1/2-hour off-camera interview with ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap at a training center in Bradenton, Fla.
The station supplied quotes from the linebacker but did not provide audio clips during its initial 9:45 p.m. report.
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the Palmdale man alleged to have duped Te'o, apologized for the hoax, Te'o also told the network.
The network reported Thursday that Tuiasosopo confessed last month to the hoax. A friend of the former Antelope Valley and Paraclete high quarterback told ESPN he'd called her in early December crying, and fessed up to tricking Te'o.
"He (Ronaiah) told me that Manti was not involved at all, he was a victim," the woman in her 20s told the network's "Outside the Lines" on Thursday under the condition she not be identified. "The girlfriend was a lie, the accident was a lie, the leukemia was a lie.
"He was crying, he was literally crying, he's like `I know, I know what I have to do.
She said he told her what was at first "a game" on the unwitting Te'o "got serious." She also said Tuiasosopo confessed that he and two other cousins - a man and a woman - participated in the hoax.
"It's not only Manti," she told ESPN, "but he was telling me that it's a lot of other people they had done this to."
Tuiasosopo's friend told ESPN that Tuiasosopo admitted to having his female cousin speak to Te'o over the phone.
ESPN interviewed two other people who said they have a cousin who had the same online hoax pulled on him by Tuiasosopo.
J.R. Vaosa, 28, of Torrance, and Celeste Tuioti-Mariner, 21, of Whittier, said that the cousin showed Vaosa a picture on MySpace of a woman from a Victoria's Secret catalog that he said was Lennay Kekua, the supposed girlfriend.
Vaosa said the online Kekua agreed to meet his cousin at certain places. Vaosa said he went with the cousin to meet her.
"When Lennay said she was gonna be at this park one day, we'd go to the park and Ronaiah pops up, and then we go to the gym in Orange County where the kids have volleyball tournaments, Ronaiah's there," he told ESPN.
They persuaded Vaosa's cousin to cut things off, not only with Kekua, but Tuiasosopo, who they were convinced was the real Kekua, Tuioti-Mariner told ESPN.
Then this fall, Vaosa and Tuioti-Mariner - who played volleyball this school year at El Camino College - saw the story of Te'o's dying girlfriend and tweeted their suspicions.
After Deadspin.com broke the story on the Te'o hoax, they say threats were made to them and their families on Twitter.
Also Friday, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said the school had encouraged linebacker Te'o to speak publicly - and soon - about being the victim of the hoax.
Swarbrick said during the taping of his weekly radio show, which airs regionally on Saturday but was posted online as a podcast on Friday, that Te'o should explain exactly how he was duped into an online relationship with a woman whose "death" was then faked by the perpetrators of the hoax.
Swarbrick added that before Deadspin.com broke the news with a lengthy report on Wednesday, Te'o and his family had planned to go public with the story Monday.
"Sometimes the best laid plans don't quite work, and this was an example of that. Because the family lost the opportunity in some ways to control the story," he said.
Late Friday, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that Te'o told family members that the voice claiming to be his late girlfriend contacted him in December, saying she had faked her own death to escape a drug dealer who was after her.
Daily News Staff Writer Dana Bartholomew and The Associated Press contributed to this report.