By RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Football Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — A college football star at the center of an elaborate hoax told a TV talk show host that the feelings he had for what turned out to be a fake, online girlfriend were real.
Manti Te'o, a linebacker for Notre Dame, reiterated he had nothing to do with the hoax.
Te'o's tale of inspired play shortly after the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend on the same day in September warmed the hearts of college football fans all over America.
But sympathy turned to shock when it was exposed as a bizarre hoax on Jan. 16. Deadspin.com broke the news that the woman Te'o had claimed to be in love with did not, in fact, exist.
The revelation prompted speculation that Manti Te'o must be a straight-laced Mormon, naive and unfamiliar with modern-day dating hazards. Or that he must be part of an elaborate hoax designed to bolster his image.
He told Katie Couric in an interview broadcast Thursday that he was not faking it, and was truly sorrowful and pained after being told that the woman he knew as Lennay Kekua — a woman he had fallen for but never met face-to-face — had died of leukemia.
Te'o has admitted that when his girlfriend's "death" became a story, he misled reporters into thinking he had met her in the flesh.
The hour-long interview also featured voicemail messages from someone pretending to be Kekua, who was heard saying "I love you" to Te'o.
After the first message was played, Te'o said: "It sounds like a girl, doesn't it?"
Couric replied "It does."
On Tuesday, the woman whose photo was used as the "face" of the Twitter account of Te'o's supposed girlfriend says the man allegedly behind the hoax confessed and apologized to her.
Diane O'Meara told NBC's "Today" news show that the man, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, used pictures of her without her knowledge in creating Lennay Kekua.
Te'o told ESPN last week that Tuiasosopo contacted him to apologize for the hoax soon after the news came out. Te'o told ESPN that not until Tuiasosopo confessed did he finally, fully realize Kekua did not exist.
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