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January 24, 2013

'I was scared. That's the truth'

In his first televised interview since the revelation that girlfriend Lennay Kekua never existed, former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o attempted to set the record straight about the relationship and what happened after he first learned Kekua might be alive.

Te'o spoke with Katie Couric on her syndicated talk show earlier in the week. The interview aired Thursday.

Couric pressed Te'o on the origins of the relationship with Kekua, the linebacker's sexual orientation, why he lied to father Brian Te'o about meeting Kekua, and how the All-American handled learning Kekua might still be alive. Te'o received a call from a number and voice he believed to be Kekua on Dec. 6, attended the Heisman Trophy presentation two days later, then waited until Christmas Day to tell his parents. He informed Notre Dame on Dec. 26.

The story of the hoax became public on Jan. 16 when Deadspin.com reported it.

"Part of me was saying, 'If you say that she's alive, what would everybody think? What are you going to tell everybody who followed you, who you inspired? What are you going to say?" Te'o said. "I did not know who to turn to. I didn't know who to trust. It was a big thing for me.

"I was scared. That's the truth. I was scared and I didn't know what to do."

The show included voice mails left by Kekua to Te'o, although earlier Thursday - prior to the airing of the interview -- the lawyer for alleged hoax mastermind Ronaiah Tuiasosopo said the voice on the phone was actually Tuiasosopo's. Te'o said he received a message on Twitter and a phone call from Tuiasosopo on Jan. 16 accepting responsibility for the hoax.

Te'o said Tuiasosopo did not explain his motives behind the elaborate prank. The two met during the USC game weekend and Tuiasosopo presented himself as Kekua's favorite cousin.

"I'd just say you hurt me, and you hurt me only because you know all my family," Te'o said of what he'd tell Tuiasosopo today. "But after that I'd say draw nearer to your family because that's exactly what I did."

Te'o was joined by parents Brian and Ottilia for the final segment of the interview.

"It hurts," Ottilia said. "That's my child up there. That's my child that in my eye always puts others before himself. He did exactly what I would expect a responsible, respectful young man to do.

"I'm proud of his character. It just hurts to see his picture and his name being displayed as someone who is dishonest."

"I'm proud of this guy," Brian said. "I really am. Nothing that has happened in the last couple weeks is going to take that away. He's not a liar. He's a kid. He's a 21-year old kid trying to be a man and I love him. I really do."

Te'o said he's unsure how the hoax will affect his draft status.

"That I don't know and to be honest with you, as long as (my parents) are okay, whatever happens happens," Te'o said. "As far as my draft status, I hope and pray that good happens, obviously, but as long as my family's okay, I can live with whatever happens."

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