Clarett expected to wait until second day of NFL draft

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 29, 2005

The Associated Press

Maurice Clarett's long, strange trip to the NFL is nearing its end. Maybe.

It's been more than two years since Clarett scored the touchdown that gave Ohio State its first national title in 34 years.

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Then came legal troubles, NCAA violations and a failed lawsuit against the NFL. A player once spoken of with the kind of awe reserved for a young talent like LeBron James had become synonymous with controversy and poor character.

Now, Clarett is saying and doing all the right things - enough, perhaps, for a team to select him in this weekend's NFL draft.

''He's definitely a second-day pick,'' said Gil Brandt, the NFL's draft consultant. ''He's really tried to turn his life around.''

Brandt knows Clarett hasn't dazzled anyone with his speed. After a disastrous showing at the NFL combine, Clarett improved last month at a private workout near his hometown of Warren, Ohio, running a 4.67-second 40-yard dash.

But Emmitt Smith and Jerome Bettis didn't run that fast either, Brandt said.

''He might be a player that just doesn't run fast, but somehow gets the job done,'' Brandt said.

Don't look for Clarett to get drafted any earlier than the fifth round, said Mike Mayock, a draft analyst for the NFL Network.

''This is pretty good running back class coming out this year. I'd much rather go with a proven track record of durability,'' Mayock said. ''Is somebody going to say let's take a chance? Yes.''

Brandt points to Clarett wrestling the ball away from Sean Taylor after an interception - one of the most memorable plays of Ohio State's 31-24 victory over top-ranked Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl - for an example of why Clarett is worth drafting.

It was a play that took great football sense, something his representatives have been promoting in recent weeks.

''Maurice is one of these guys who you can do all the drills in the world, you put a football in his hand and he turns into a different kid,'' said his attorney, David Kenner. ''That's Maurice. He's been doing it since he was 5 years old and I don't see any reason to believe it should change now.''

Clarett rushed for 1,237 yards and 16 touchdowns as a freshman at Ohio State despite missing three games with injuries. Then the trouble started.

Clarett was charged with misdemeanor falsification for filing a police report claiming that more than $10,000 in clothing, CDs, cash and stereo equipment was stolen from a car he borrowed from a local dealership. He later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger announced in September 2003 that Clarett was suspended for the season for receiving special benefits worth thousands of dollars from a family friend, and for misleading investigators.

Clarett then challenged the NFL's rule that a player must be out of high school three years to be eligible for the draft. Initially, a judge ruled in his favor, but an appellate court overturned the decision.

Clarett continued making headlines for all the wrong reasons, including his allegations that coach Jim Tressel arranged for him to get passing grades, cars and money for bogus summer jobs.

He became a pariah as far as NFL teams were concerned.

But Clarett, who did not respond to an interview request, showed the first sign of taking responsibility for his actions during an interview at the NFL combine.

''When I looked at myself, sometimes I kind of looked like a joke to myself,'' he said. ''I guess it was a part of growing up and becoming who I am today. I did do some things I shouldn't have done.''

Agent Steve Feldman said his client's image as an arrogant kid who was going to sue his way into the NFL is gone. He thinks any of 32 teams could draft him this weekend.

''They're getting a feel for the fact that his biggest fault was he took extra benefits,'' Feldman said. ''He just wants a job. He wants to prove that he has first-round talent.''

Clarett's mother, Michelle, has stood by her son through it all and said she only wishes for success in whatever he sets out to do.

''I think with every year of life young people mature,'' she said. ''It's important to learn from the journey.''