Clarett ready to give NFL another go

Much to prove at combine for `humble' running back

Pro Football

February 25, 2005|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS - Maurice Clarett had it all and then he had nothing. Three years ago, he was a celebrity at Ohio State, and then he became a pariah.

In one long, slow-motion slide toward oblivion, Clarett went from ramrod on the Buckeyes' last national championship team to national afterthought. Or worse, national embarrassment.

Now he's back. Back from self-imposed exile in California. Back from a two-year hiatus from the football field. And in that rarity of rarities, back in the NFL draft.

Clarett, once one of the most promising college running backs, arrived at the pre-draft combine workouts this week intent on rehabilitating his career.

"This is a blessing," he said in a lengthy exchange with the media. "I got a second chance to make a first impression." His first chance turned into a debacle.

Since helping Ohio State win the national title in the 2002 season, Clarett has been suspended from school for receiving improper benefits, lied to police about the extent of stolen merchandise and took the NFL to court over its draft-eligibility rules.

When he showed up in Indianapolis at last year's combine - while the courts mulled his attempt to get into the draft a year early - he refused to work out. When he finally did, at Ohio State, he performed miserably.

What's more, an appellate court then knocked Clarett out of the 2004 draft after a lower court ruling had tentatively let him in. He had to sit out a second straight season.

Now he has a lot of proving to do.

"There is a curiosity to see how he is going to run with all the time he's had off and all the training that he's claimed to have done," said Buffalo Bills coach Mike Mularkey. "It will be interesting to see what he does."

What Clarett shows when he finally runs, jumps and lifts here will largely determine whether he can persuade any team to invest a draft pick on him.

He sounded eager for the chance yesterday.

"A more positive person is what the NFL will get," said Clarett, 21. "I've got a lot greater work ethic than I did last year. I think my drive is a lot more determined than it was last year."

He weighed in at 234 pounds, 8 fewer than a year ago. The chip on his shoulder seemingly was gone, replaced with a new-found maturity. The credit, he said, goes to his lawyer, David Kenner, with whom he has spent several months.

"I worked on me, basically," Clarett said. "It was a good thing because he [Kenner] wasn't afraid to tell me my faults and the wrongdoings I had."

What he learned essentially, he said, was humility.

"In the past, I said some things I shouldn't have said and he taught me to be humble," Clarett said. "It was a humbling thing to be humble."

Clarett carefully avoided his previous allegations that Ohio State had arranged a job for which he need not be present.

"I made some mistakes that are obvious to everybody in this room," he said, "and I paid for them."

In the next few days, the NFL will find out what exactly Clarett has learned from those mistakes.

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