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Manti Te'o: My feelings for fake girlfriend were real

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o speaks with host

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o speaks with host Katie Couric during an interview for "Katie" in New York. (Jan. 22, 2013) Credit: ABC

Former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o told Katie Couric that he invested real emotions in his relationship with the girlfriend who turned out to be fake.

Te'o appeared with Couric Thursday for his first on-camera interview since news broke last week that the girlfriend he never met turned out to be a hoax. He said he believed she had been in a coma from a car accident and died from leukemia.

"What I went through was real," Te'o said on "Katie." "You know, the feelings, the pain, the sorrow -- that was all real, and that's something that I can't fake."

Te'o said he has no idea to whom he was actually talking when he spoke with Lennay Kekua, the fictitious woman he met online and called his girlfriend. Several voicemails from "Lennay" were played during the interview.

"Doesn't that sound like a girl?" Te'o asked. "Well, it didn't sound like a man. It sounded like a woman. If he somehow made that voice, that's incredible. That's an incredible talent to do that, especially every single day."

The Couric interview was taped Tuesday. On Thursday, the Daily News quoted the lawyer for Ronaiah Tuiasosopo as saying the voice belonged to his client, the reported initiator of the hoax.

As for speculation that Te'o was involved in the hoax to cover up his sexual orientation, the player insisted he is not gay. "Far from it," he said with a chuckle. "Far from that."

Te'o admitted he lied to his father about meeting Lennay after she canceled plans to get together in Hawaii. He said he didn't tell his father the truth because he thought it would create "red flags." He said he tried to video-chat with Lennay several times, but whenever he did, he could not see her.

Te'o said he received a message from Lennay on Sept. 11, the day she supposedly left the hospital after a stay because of cancer. He said he received a call the following day from one of Lennay's cousins telling him she had died.

That's the inspirational story that reached the national media as Te'o and Notre Dame played all the way to the BCS Championship Game. But on Dec. 6, two days before Te'o was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, he said he received a call from Lennay telling him she was alive. Still, during Heisman interviews, he referenced a girlfriend who had died of cancer.

Te'o said he did not even tell his parents about Lennay's "return" until Christmas. He said he did not understand the full scope of the scam until last week, just before published the initial report on the hoax.

"What people don't realize is that the same day that everyone else found out about this situation, I found out," he said. "I got the call on Dec. 6 saying that she was alive, and from Dec. 6 to Jan. 16 my whole reality was that she was dead and all of a sudden she was alive. At that time I didn't know that it was just somebody's prank."

New York Sports