Clarett thrilled to be playing football |

Clarett thrilled to be playing football

DENVER – Maurice Clarett walked into the media room wearing his No. 20 Broncos jersey and a huge smile that stayed on his face for several minutes.Think he isn’t thrilled to be playing football again? After two years of courtrooms, scrutiny and inactivity, it’s hard to blame him.”It’s cool. It’s fun to be back out here running around with my teammates – I’ve finally got some guys I can call my teammates,” Clarett said Friday after four days of minicamp with his new team. “I’m having fun, I’m enjoying myself.”That wasn’t the case the past two years.A player with a seemingly bright future after leading Ohio State to the 2002 national title as a freshman, Clarett instead found himself in the middle of scandal.

It started when he was suspended by Ohio State for the 2003 season after accepting improper benefits and lying to investigators. Clarett then sued the NFL over its rule that a player must be out of high school for three years before becoming eligible for the draft.That led to another year off the football field and plenty of time in court, with the U.S. Supreme Court eventually deciding not to reverse an appeals court’s decision to declare him ineligible for the draft.Clarett didn’t stay quiet in his year away, though, and took a shot at his alma mater. He said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel helped him earn passing grades and arranged cars and money for nonexistent summer jobs.Then there were his pre-draft workouts. Clarett had two miserable times in the 40-yard run at the NFL combine and quit before the workout was over. He improved the time a few weeks later, but the labels were already in place: overweight, slow and a quitter.Of course, that wasn’t enough to dissuade Denver. The Broncos pulled the surprise of the draft, taking the troubled running back in the third round – 101st overall – with the hope of creating another 1,000-yard runner out of what other teams considered average talent.

“Watching him play his freshman year, I thought if he would continue to play the next two years here would have been a top-10 pick, maybe a top-15 pick. He has that kind of ability,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. “Now the big question is, what can he do after being out of football for two years? I can’t answer that question, but what I can tell you is that he’s been working his rear end off since he’s been here.”There’s still a long ways to go.Clarett spent the week trying to shake off two years’ worth of rust, adjusting to Denver’s altitude and keeping up with the pace and sophistication of the NFL.Then there’s the scrutiny. Shanahan asked Clarett and the rest of the rookies to hold off talking to the media until late in the week so their concentration would be on the field and in the meeting rooms.Of course, with everything Clarett’s been through, the media and the fans aren’t the only ones intrigued about what the rookie can do.

“Everybody was interested, especially the defenders and other players watching what could I do and after two years what was going on,” Clarett said. “But after we ran a couple plays and we talked to each other and I communicated with them in the weight room, they don’t even look at me like what went on. It’s kind of like you’re a part of the group right now, either help us or move on.”As far as his beef with his alma mater, Clarett has put that in his past as well.Ohio State was reprimanded by the NCAA this week for nine violations, but only one involved the football team. None of it involved Clarett nor his accusations.”I don’t even know what’s going on,” he said. “My memories of Ohio State is that we won the national championship and that was that. I love Ohio State and I’ll always be a fan of them. I wish Ohio State all the luck in the world and I wish that they get through these problems they do have because I’ll always be a fan, I’ll consider myself from being from Ohio State.”

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