INDIANAPOLIS - Manti Te'o emphatically denied having anything to do with creating the hoax of his online girlfriend in an interview with Katie Couric.
The Notre Dame linebacker told Couric in an interview that aired Thursday that he believed that his girlfriend Lennay Kekua had died of cancer and that he only briefly lied in December after learning that she didn't exist.
"From Sept. 12 to Dec. 6, my whole reality was that she was dead. Now all of a sudden she's alive. At that time, I didn't know that it was just somebody's prank," Te'o said. "I did not know who to turn to, who to tell, who to trust. I was scared."
Te'o repeatedly told Couric he didn't suspect anything was amiss with his girlfriend, despite a string of missed connections and the fact that he had only talked with her over the phone and online.
"Through the embarrassment and through the fear of what people thought, that I was committed to this person who I didn't have a chance to meet, and she all of a sudden died, that scared me. To avoid any further conversation, I kind of, I wasn't as forthcoming as I should have been," Te'o said.
Te'o told Couric the pair were set to meet several times, but that plans would always fall through. He said they tried to video chat, but that she claimed something was wrong with his camera.
When asked by Couric why he would continue a relationship with a woman he'd never met, Te'o said he felt a connection with Kekua.
"This Lennay person, there were so many similarities -- she was Polynesian, and I'm Samoan. She loved her faith, and I'm Mormon, and she knew a lot about that," he said. "I found a lot of peace and a lot of comfort talking to a person who knew my standards, who knew my culture and what's expected of me, and I knew what's expected of her."
Te'o said he began to feel he was in too deep after lying to his dad about meeting up with Kekua when he was home in Hawaii.
"It was my way of trying to get my dad's approval of this young lady," he said. "I knew that if he knew I didn't meet her, that immediately he'd just say no, red flag. A red flag I obviously should have seen."
After Kekua was allegedly in a serious car crash and was then diagnosed with leukemia, Te'o said he was empathetic, not suspicious.
"I wasn't going to tell a person who had just come out of a coma, 'Oh, you need to call or come and see me right now,'" he said.
Then when he was told his girlfriend had died, Te'o said he mourned, thinking he had lost a person that he cared for deeply.
"What I went through was real. The feelings, the pain, the sorrow, that was all real, and that's something I can't fake," he said.
When Te'o received a call from a woman claiming to be his girlfriend in December, he told Couric he didn't know what to believe. He said the woman told him she had to go into hiding because her family was being chased by drug dealers.
It was two days after that phone call that the Heisman Trophy runner-up talked about his doomed love in a web interview on Dec. 8 and again in a newspaper interview published Dec. 10.
Te'o's father defended his son when Couric pointed out that many people don't believe the Irish star, suspecting he used the situation for personal gain.
"People can speculate about what they think he is. I've known him 21 years of his life. And he's not a liar. He's a kid," Brian Te'o said with tears in his eyes.
Manti Te'o told Couric that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man believed to be behind the hoax, has apologized for his actions.
"I wanted to tell you everything today. I will not say anything to anyone else before I tell you everything," Tuiasosopo wrote in a Twitter direct message provided by Te'o. "I would and will never say anything back about you or your family. I completely accept the consequences to the pain I've caused & it's important that you know the entire truth before anyone else."
In a follow-up call, Te'o told Couric that Tuiasosopo said that he wanted to help people, and that he was trying to connect with someone.
Te'o said he wants to move on from the painful episode.
"For me, it's been hard. It's been difficult. Not only for myself, but to see your last name, and just to see it plastered everywhere," he said. "To know that I represent so many people, and that my family is experiencing the same thing. I think that was the most hard for me."