Clarett saga now shifts into arena football league

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 14, 2006

I f pro football had a Hall of Lame, the first induction class would probably include players like Todd Marinovich, Lawrence Phillips, Ryan Leaf, Mike Junkin, Akili Smith and David Klingler.

And let’s not forget the man who may be promoted to the head of the class, Maurice Clarett.

This is the same Maurice Clarett who, as a freshman, led Ohio State to an upset of Miami to win the 2002 national championship.

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This is the same Maurice Clarett who sat out his sophomore year to challenge the NFL draft.

He lost.

This is the same Maurice Clarett who was drafted a year later in the third round by the Denver Broncos, a pick that remains a mystery.

It is the same Maurice Clarett who allegedly robbed a man and a woman at gunpoint behind the Opium Lounge in downtown Columbus. Clarett was identified by the bar owner who just happened to come out into the alley.

And now, this is the same Maurice Clarett who has signed to play with the Mahoning Valley Hitmen of the Eastern Indoor Football League.

These are the same Hitmen who will be one of five to seven teams in the newly-formed league.

Jim Terry, who is the head coach of the Ohio franchise, said he’s never seen a player so excited to sign with a team. That can be taken two ways. You admire Clarett’s enthusiasm, but why is a running back so excited to join a passing league?

If Clarett is banking on the Hitmen to get him back in shape and make another run at the NFL, that is admirable. But the Eastern Indoor Football League? A league that has yet to play a game? A league that’s not even sure if it will have enough teams and, if so, how many.

Players like Marinovich and Phillips lost their careers to drug usage and/or continued run-ins with the law.

Marinovich’s father tried to make his son the prototype quarterback only to see him become the inspiration for the movie “Half Baked.” Phillips has spent more time in police headquarters for assault charges than he did in a training camp.

Junkin should never have been drafted No. 1 by the Browns — man, that Art Modell is a great judge of talent — and no one can forget how ballyhooed quarterbacks like Leaf, Klingler and Smith failed miserably to make the transition from college to the NFL.

So what category does Clarett fall under? Maybe all of the above. If that’s true, no wonder he’s at the head of his class.

Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune.