Sunday, September 5, 2010

Maurice Clarett's Comeback

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH


As NFL dreams get dashed over the next week because coaches scramble the waiver wire to find out what players will make up their 53-man rosters, plus fill out their practice squads, there is one guy who doesn't have to worry about that situation.


One of the major reasons he doesn't is due to his college coach's Letter of Recommendation.


While Ohio State Head Coach Jim Tressel is known for his 8-1 record against the Michigan Wolverines along with a six-game winning streak against U-M, plus his vest on the sidelines, loyalty will go down as another major attribute.


The player that led him to a national championship against the Miami Hurricanes in 2002 by rushing for 1,237 yards and 18 touchdowns is named Maurice Clarett.


The Buckeyes were the first team ever to go 14-0 defeating the Hurricanes in double overtime 31-24 to win the 2003 Fiesta Bowl as OSU ended a 34-year championship drought.


Since that national title, Clarett was suspended for the entire 2003 season for taking gifts and lying to the NCAA. He later lost a court case challenging the NFL's rule requiring a player to be out of high school three years before becoming eligible for the draft.


The Denver Broncos drafted Clarett in the third round in 2005, but he was hindered by a groin problem, never played in a preseason game and was cut before the regular season.


Things would get worse for Clarett as he spent 3 1/2 years in prison for having a hidden gun and holding up two people outside a Columbus, Ohio, bar in 2006. To Clarett's credit, he worked out in prison and stayed in shape. Being in prison gave him a chance to sort out his head and he was recently released from prison.


He did take classes with Ohio State and was smart enough to reconnect with the university.


Clarett's latest opportunity came on August 30, when he signed a one-year contract with the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League (UFL). The average salary in the UFL is $50,000.


Former Green Bay Packer Ahman Green, a native of Omaha and four-time Pro Bowler will act as his mentor. The Nighthawks feature Pro Bowl Quarterback Jeff Garcia and several other players with NFL experience.


Despite the embarrassment that Ohio State had to deal with while Clarett was there, to Tressel's credit, he saw the young man paid his debt to society and went to bat for him when he needed him.


Clarett, 26, who is listed at 6-0, 220, will wear the No. 13 he wore so well as an Ohio State freshman eight years ago. He is 10 pounds lighter than his playing days with the Buckeyes and a million pounds more humble.


Meanwhile, Tressel has compiled a 95-21 record at Ohio State. His overall collegiate record is 230-78-2 and is 5-4 in bowls.


But because of Clarett's one dynamic season, to win a national title at a top-flight university like Ohio State, where the name Woody Hayes is etched in the minds of Buckeye Nation, you can rest assure that Tressel is grateful to Clarett for helping him build his legacy in Columbus.


Winning does a lot and Tressel knows that if he can still mentor one of the best athletes that has ever played for him with the irony that he was born in Mentor, Ohio, this has to make him feel good inside.


Ironically, the Miami Hurricanes will face the Buckeyes next weekend in Columbus and then make a trip to South Florida a year later. I wonder if the TV Announcers assigned to these games will bring up the Fiesta Bowl, National Championship and Clarett.


You can count on it! It will be played up big-time.


Whether Clarett attends the game is anyone's guess. But if he doesn't, he'll be preparing for his UFL pro career and there will be some communication between himself and Tressel as a reminder of the good old days.


This year, the UFL plans to play a full season. It will be interesting to see how Clarett progresses. One thing is for certain, if he has a pretty good season, because of the demand to win in the NFL, there is always another team looking to give a second chance.


Since Cleveland lost LeBron James this summer, maybe the Browns could sign Clarett to play in his home state. Right now, that may seem to be a stretch. We know that Clarett isn't thinking along those lines.


He's just thankful that instead of seeing his hands in handcuffs, that he'll be receiving hand offs from a quarterback. Instead of being behind bars, at least he has offensive linemen in front of him where he can look down field looking for holes to run instead of looking outside his prison cell wondering if an inmate will harm him.


If he succeeds in the UFL, this will be a feather in this leagues cap to promote it and lure new players with dreams to return to the NFL. UFL Commissioner Michael Huyghue gave his blessing for Clarett's comeback.


I hope that Clarett can shake the bust tag that he's been labeled and will bust through more tackles. Tressel does know that he can win with Clarett in another way.


Should Maurice have any type of success, this will be a great recruiting tool to land blue chip prospects. Not that Ohio State should have any problems, but this could only help.


Since Ohio State competes for a national title every year and Tressel does run a clean program, in an era filled with agent corruption and different types of scandals, there aren't many coaches that can say that they have a national championship and were runners-up two years in a row.


In 2007, OSU lost to Florida 41-14 (Glendale, Arizona) and in 2008 came up short to LSU 38-24 in the Tigers backyard, the Louisiana, Superdome.


I hope this works for both sides.


Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com.

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