- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 1, 2010

OMAHA, NEB. (AP) - Maurice Clarett sidestepped questions about his past Wednesday in his first comments since signing with Omaha’s United Football League team, saying he wants to discuss what lies ahead.

The former Ohio State star said that he hoped for but was unsure he would be given a chance to play again. He said his legs are fresh and he’s confident he can be successful once he readjusts to the demands of football.

Clarett hasn’t played in a game since helping lead Ohio State to the 2002 national championship. He broke NCAA rules for accepting gifts, lost a bid to enter the NFL after his freshman year, got cut by the Denver Broncos once he was drafted, and then served 3 1/2 years in prison for his role in a robbery.

“I learned a lot, but more so just be humble about everything and stay positive in character and keep a good attitude about what goes on,” Clarett said.

The Omaha Nighthawks are a first-year franchise in the UFL. The league’s mission is to give exposure to veterans who hope to get back to the NFL and second chances to young players who have been cut or fallen through the cracks. Average pay is $50,000 for an eight-game season.

Pro Bowlers Jeff Garcia and Ahman Green are on the Nighthawks’ roster, and this week’s addition of Clarett thrust the league into the national spotlight.

The team has said it would provide a support system for the 26-year-old Clarett, who was made available for a short group interview after practice. He took 11 questions in five minutes before the team’s public relations director ended the session.

Clarett walked through some plays during his third practice with the Nighthawks and got a look as a kick returner and member of the punt-coverage unit.

“My confidence level is good right now,” he said. “Get in the weight room, get inside the playbook. I’ve got a good relationship with my teammates, just taking things day by day.”

He said his biggest challenge has been learning terminology, remembering plays and getting acclimated to the short bursts of action and the feeling of wearing pads again.

“That was kind of foreign to me at first,” he said.

Asked if he had anything to say to people who are scrutinizing his comeback bid, Clarett said, “I really have nothing to say to them. My focus is here with the Nighthawks. I’m going to keep it right there and figure out how to contribute to the team.”

Clarett had to convince UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue that he was serious about playing football and being a good citizen. The two met Monday, and Huyghue gave his blessing.

“I’m sure he had his concerns and everything,” Clarett said. “It was a personal discussion between me and him. I told him how I felt, where I was at in my life, how I felt about my family, about having an opportunity to play again and being around the guys around here.”

Green, who grew up in Omaha and is the Green Bay Packers’ career rushing leader, is serving as Clarett’s mentor.

Clarett sits with Green in meetings and shadows him at practices.

Ahman is a real positive dude,” Clarett said. “I talked to him on the phone before I came here, and he said he would be a resource to me on any level. Every question I have asked him, he’s been real helpful.”

The Nighthawks’ first game is at home in three weeks against the Hartford Colonials. Clarett said at one point that it was premature for him to think about how much playing time he would get.

“I’m just looking forward to getting started on Sept. 24.”