Clarett finding his footing with Omaha pro team

After 31/2 years in a prison cell, the sound of people cheering

and rooting for him has helped Maurice Clarett make the transition

back to a routine life.

“I’m doing something that I love,” the former Ohio State

tailback said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. “I

think that goes for anybody in the world anywhere: If you’re doing

something you love and you’re having fun doing it, I don’t think a

person can ask for too much more.”

Clarett, a month into a stint with the Omaha Nighthawks of the

United Football League, said it has taken him time to get back into

playing shape after not playing competitively since he led the

Buckeyes to the 2002 national championship. He was suspended by the

NCAA for taking improper inducements, failed to make it in the NFL,

then spent 31/2 years in prison for having a hidden gun and holding

up two people outside a Columbus bar in 2006.

In the Nighhawks’ two games – both wins – Clarett has seen only

limited action.

The 26-year-old Clarett declined to address questions about his

past. He said he had learned to deal with only what is in front of

him.

“I take things day by day. I don’t get too far ahead of myself;

I don’t look behind myself,” he said when asked if he hopes to

someday make it to the NFL.

“I understand my responsibility and where I’m at right now. I’m

sort of living in the moment,” he said. “Some personal goals, I

keep them private and I keep them to myself. I put in all the work

I need to be putting in, to contribute to the team and become a

better player. I try every day. It’s a day-by-day process. I focus

on the moment.”

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel wrote a letter to the presiding

judge asking for Clarett to be permitted to leave Ohio to try out

with the Nighthawks.

“I think it’s probably something that he thought about and that

he missed and that he knows it’s short-lived,” Tressel said earlier

this season. “The older you get, it’s even shorter-lived.”

Clarett worked out at Ohio State while attending classes there

this summer.

“He wanted to be in a positive environment and all that,”

Tressel said. “All of a sudden people started calling us and I

would take him his phone messages. And I think he kind of felt good

that there was some interest.”

Clarett was granted permission to travel to Omaha for the

tryout, and made the team.

The 6-foot, 220-pounder said he was fortunate that he was able

to stay in shape while he was in prison and this summer while

attending classes and living in a lockdown dormitory in Columbus.

But even though he felt he was in good condition, it took a while

to come around to being physically able to play professional

football.

“It’s been like any other transition,” he said. “It’s had its

points of difficulties, but right now I’m good. I’ve been away from

the game for a while, so starting off things were moving kind of

fast. I had to get everything under control. But I’ve been here now

five or six weeks, so I kind of understand what’s going on with the

playbook, what the coaches expect out of us: getting back in

football shape, sprinting and stopping, taking care of my body,

taking care of my mind, just doing the things we need to do to

win.”

He has carried only five times for 12 yards, and has one catch

for 6 yards. He is listed on the Nighthawks’ depth chart as the

third-team tailback behind NFL veteran Ahman Green and Shaud

Williams.

“That’s definitely enough to keep me busy,” he said of the light

workload so far. “The coach, he tells us pretty much before each

game, how many carries he expects us to have. And we go from

there.”

Clarett said he continues to follow college football. He was a

sensation at Ohio State, starting at the glamour position of

tailback before he had attended his first college class.

He rushed for 1,237 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Buckeyes in

his only season, capped by a glittering performance in the Fiesta

Bowl where the Buckeyes beat top-ranked Miami 31-24 in two

overtimes. In that game, Clarett rushed for two touchdowns

including the game-winner. He also made one of the biggest plays of

the game when he ran down the Hurricanes’ Sean Taylor, who had just

intercepted a pass, and stole the ball away to help set up a field

goal.

“I pay attention. The big games that they have on TV, they have

a lot of Nebraska games out here or regional games out here,” he

said. “I talk to a couple of players back at Ohio State. I pay

attention to Ohio State.”

The Omaha fans have been good to Clarett, cheering for him and

rabidly supporting his team.

“It feels good,” he said.