Former Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett’s interest in the United Football League’s Omaha Nighthawks appears to be mutual.
Nighthawks general manager Rick Mueller said Monday the team will see whether the former college star, who led the Buckeyes to the 2002 national championship before myriad legal problems and a prison sentence derailed his football career, is the right fit for the expansion UFL franchise.
“Maurice Clarett has paid his debt to society and through recent conversations with Maurice, his lawyer and his family, we believe he is sincerely working at turning his life around,” Mueller said in a statement.
“Because we believe everyone deserves a second chance, and because Maurice wants to see whether he can still play the game he loves, we’ve agreed to work Maurice out as soon as the Ohio courts allow.
“ There are no commitments other than we want to help him take positive steps towards being the good citizen and solid family man that he aspires to be.”
The release said that Omaha Nighthawks staff, coaches and players “will not comment further on this matter. “
The UFL’s Nighthawks currently have two prominent former NFL players, quarterback Jeff Garcia and running back Ahman Green, in their preseason camp. The franchise’s player personnel director, Ted Sundquist, was general manager of the Denver Broncos when that team selected Clarett in the third round of the 2005 NFL draft.
Clarett, who scored the winning touchdown in Ohio State’s double-overtime Fiesta Bowl victory over top-ranked Miami in the ‘02 national championship game, pleaded guilty in 2006 to aggravated robbery and carrying a concealed weapon and served 3½ years in a Toledo prison.
In 2003, Clarett was ruled ineligible at Ohio State for taking special benefits worth thousands of dollars. He sued to enter the NFL draft early – in 2004, before he was out of high school for three years – but lost in court. After the Broncos drafted him in ’05, Clarett sustained a groin injury that caused him to miss most of the preseason and he was cut before the regular season.
In September 2006, Clarett pleaded guilty to possessing a hidden firearm in his sport utility vehicle and holding up two people outside a bar in Columbus, Ohio.
Following his prison stay, Clarett has been attending classes at Ohio State while living in a detention facility in Columbus. That 4 ½ month stay in the dormitory style facility was intended to help Clarett transition from prison.
He recently filed a motion asking a judge to allow him to travel to Nebraska for the Nighthawks’ tryout. The judge’s review was tentatively scheduled for Monday but has been tabled until Aug. 30. Clarett is not permitted to leave the state of Ohio until he receives clearance from the court.
The Nighthawks open their season Sept. 24 against the Hartford Colonials.
Clarett’s attorney, Michael Hoague, said Clarett is nervous but hopeful.
"In his position, it’s like he’s in shark-infested waters and the rescue boat is coming to get him," Hoague said. "He’s nervous. But he’s optimistic."