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Originally published Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 7:04 PM

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Pro teams will evaluate Manti Te'o's story before draft | College football

Whether Manti Te'o's off-camera interview with ESPN on Friday was enough to demonstrate the former Notre Dame linebacker was a victim in a dead-girlfriend hoax instead of a participant remains an open question.

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NEW YORK — Manti Te'o tried to put one of the strangest sports stories in memory behind him, insisting he was the target of an elaborate online hoax in which he fell for a fake woman created by pranksters, then admitting his own lies made the bizarre ordeal worse.

Whether his off-camera interview with ESPN on Friday was enough to demonstrate the former Notre Dame linebacker was a victim in the scheme instead of a participant is still an open question.

The most important judges of the Heisman Trophy finalist might be pro teams. Te'o has finished his coursework at Notre Dame and is preparing for the NFL draft at an elite training facility in Florida, where the 2 ½-hour interview was conducted.

Draft consultant Gil Brandt, a former Dallas Cowboys general manager, said Saturday: "Between now and 97 days from now when the draft comes, there'll be a lot of people investigating just what took place."

ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap said that the 21-year-old Te'o answered his questions in a calm voice, and tried to clear up the mysteries and inconsistencies of the case.

Te'o provided a timeline and details of his relationship with Lennay Kekua, his virtual sweetheart, who went through an array of medical calamities before "dying" of leukemia in September, hours after Te'o got real news of his grandmother's death. Te'o denied being in on the dead-girlfriend hoax.

Te'o acknowledged he lied to his father about meeting Kekua in person, then exacerbated the situation after Kekua's supposed death when he discussed her in media interviews.

"I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away, so that people wouldn't think that I was some crazy dude," Te'o told ESPN.

It was not until Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old acquaintance who lives in California, contacted him Wednesday and confessed to the prank, that Te'o finally believed Kekua was not real.

So far no law-enforcement agencies have indicated they are pursuing a criminal case in the scam.

"Manti put this to rest for me and the University long ago," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a text message to The Associated Press on Saturday.

"I am just glad that everyone (at least everyone open to the facts) now knows what we have long known — that a great young man was the innocent victim of a very cruel hoax."

Tuel looks sharp

CARSON, Calif. — Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel completed all eight of his passes to help the National team beat the American 34-0 at the second annual NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.

Tuel, who started, passed for 64 yards and a touchdown.

Teammate Dayne Crist of Kansas was 7 of 10 for 61 yards. He threw for a TD, ran for another and was voted most valuable player.

Elsewhere

• The West defeated the East 28-13 in the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein started for the East and completed a mere 5 of 13 passes for 43 yards and an interception.

Mississippi State receiver Chad Bumphis was voted the game's most valuable player on offense and Kansas State cornerback Nigel Malone was the defensive MVP. Both played for the West.

• Missouri Western's Michael Hill made the most of his 12 carries at the inaugural Raycom College Football All-Star Classic in Montgomery, Ala.

Hill rushed for 148 yards and two TDs to lead the Stripes team to a 31-3 rout of the Stars.

Hill was selected offensive MVP and Charles James of Charleston Southern was the defensive MVP.

• Alabama celebrated its third national title in four years in front of thousands of crimson-and-white-clad fans in Tuscaloosa.

"I've never been more proud of any group I've ever coached than the players and the coaches on this particular team," coach Nick Saban told the crowd.

• Texas A&M has agreed in principle to give coach Kevin Sumlin a contract extension and a raise after he led the Aggies to 11 victories in his first season.

The 48-year-old Sumlin, who was hired from Houston after Mike Sherman was fired by Texas A&M, recently completed the first season of a five-year contract worth $2 million a year.

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