A star of American college football who dedicated his performances to a girlfriend he claimed had died of leukaemia has denied being behind a cruel hoax after it was revealed she never existed.
Manti Te'o, a star of leading sports university Notre Dame, admitted on national television that he lied about her death after discovering the girl he says he met online was not real.
But he emphatically rejected claims he dreamt the tragic story up to boost his chances of winning top football awards.
Te'o, 21, first told reporters that his girlfriend had died in September, hours after his grandmother had passed away following a long illness.
He earned wide sympathy for his heart-wrenching story and enormous praise for his game-winning displays in the wake of the supposed death.
Te'o, a star linebacker, earned more hype for major awards off the back of his apparently emotionally-driven performances - until the death of his apparent girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, was revealed as a hoax last week and that the girl in question had, in fact, never existed.
Te'o admitted during a tearful interview with ABC's Katie Couric that he found out Kekua was fake on December 6 when he received a call from someone claiming to be the dead girl - but could not bring himself to tell reporters the truth days later.
Appearing alongside his parents, Te'o admitted he led the press into believing he had met the girl in real life and claimed they had dated for a year.
But he remained adamant that the feelings he first expressed publicly for the girl had been genuine and that he was the real victim in the hoax.
He confirmed he had made no attempt to meet the girl he had been speaking to online, despite at one point being told she had been left in a coma following a car crash.
But he said he received a series of answer phone messages from his supposed girlfriend - which it has been reported were recorded by a man, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.
One of the voicemails played during the interview heard the person pretending to be Te'o's girlfriend say, "I love you."
After the first message was played, Te'o said: "It sounds like a girl, doesn't it?" Couric replied "It does."
Te'o's parents supported his claims he was not part of the hoax, saying they had also spoken to the person claiming to be Kekua.
The first answer phone message Te'o received was supposed to be on Kekua's first day of chemotherapy for leukemia, the person said:
Another answer phone message was left on September 11, the day T'eo believed Kekua was being released from the hospital and the day before she "died."
Te'o said Tuiasosopo had later called him to confess to inventing the girl to try and "help out" his college hero.
Tuiasosopo has not spoken publicly since news of the hoax broke.
The house where Te'o sent flowers to the Kekua family was once a residence of Tuiasosopo and has been in his family for decades, according to the Associated Press.