- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS — A year after failing in his attempt to become draft-eligible ahead of schedule, Maurice Clarett was back at the NFL Scouting Combine. And Clarett said he’s a much better person as a result.

“This day has been on my calendar for a long time, coming here and interviewing with everybody and kind of knock the knocks everybody had on me,” Clarett said. “It’s kind of like a blessing. I’ve got a second chance to make a first impression.”

His initial first impression wasn’t a good one. After rushing for 1,237 yards as a freshman and leading Ohio State to the national title in 2002 while showing rare power and elusiveness, Clarett was suspended for all of 2003 for accepting improper benefits from a family friend and lying to investigators.

Clarett then forced his way into last year’s combine by suing the NFL to enter the draft. He showed up out of shape and declined to do any on-field testing. Clarett didn’t do well in his subsequent personal workout and wound up being denied entrance to the draft when a federal appellate court overturned a lower court ruling that made all underclassmen available to be chosen.

Now that Clarett’s eligible, he has a lot of convincing to do, even if the hours of strength work that caused him to drop to 234 pounds lead to a faster 40-yard dash today than the 4.6 seconds he ran last spring.

“Obviously there [are] a lot of questions out there about him,” Buffalo coach Mike Mularkey said. “It’s a curiosity to see how he’s going to run with all the time he’s had off and all the training that he’s claimed to have done. He’s got to show himself off because he’s been out of football for two years.”

Carolina general manager Marty Hurney said the issue of rustiness remains. But as far Clarett’s off-field issues, he said, “There are a lot of guys you have questions about, and you try to find the answers, and he’s no different than a lot of them.”

After being well-prepped by attorney David Kenner, the 21-year-old Clarett was pretty convincing to the media yesterday.

“He helped me out a whole lot,” Clarett said. “It was good because he wasn’t afraid to tell me my faults and the wrongdoings I had. We talked about everything day in and day out even when I didn’t want to hear certain things. That helped me mature. He taught me how to be humble. It’s a humbling thing being humble.

“I might have said some things to the media in the past that I shouldn’t have said. I had to take a look at myself from outside myself. When I looked at myself sometimes I kind of looked like a joke. 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. I’ve taken responsibility for all those things, and I’m just ready to move forward.”

So much so that Clarett will do whatever the NFL’s evaluators ask of him during today’s workouts for running backs in the RCA Dome.

“I’m a whole lot more determined than I was last year,” Clarett said. “I’m putting everything on the table out here. If I do a great job and I feel like I’m comfortable the way I worked out, I won’t work out anywhere else.”

Clarett’s just eager to get back to work, no matter that his lengthy absence has him projected as perhaps a third-round pick.

“I made some mistakes that are obvious to everybody in this room, and I paid for ‘em,” Clarett said. “It’s been disappointing not being able to play. I just want to work. I don’t care if it’s special teams, anything, just get me on the field.”

“I just can’t wait to get back in the locker room, the fellowship with the teammates. I just miss being around a team. If I go in there and I study and I pay attention to detail and I work hard and I make football my life again like I’ve made it right now, I think I’ll be fine.”

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