Clarett practices with UFL team

Maurice Clarett hasn’t played in a regular season football

game since helping lead Ohio State to a national championship in

2002. But the former Buckeyes running back on Wednesday downplayed

the significance of his return to an organized practice field,

where he formally suited up as a member of the United Football

League’s Omaha Nighthawks.

“It feels really good,” Clarett said of being back

in pads after a lengthy football hiatus that included spending 3

1/2  years in prison for his role in a robbery. “It was

kind of foreign to me at first, just getting adjusted to

everything, but it’s a great group of guys here. The spirit

in the locker room is great. My teammates seem to enjoy being

around each other, seem to enjoy being here at the facility. It

feels good.”

Clarett’s role on the expansion Nighthawks’ team has

yet to be determined, but his place on the roster is a positive

step from where he’s been. Since that national title peak in

‘02, Clarett’s career and his life have been in serious

decline. After being found guilty of violating NCAA rules for

accepting gifts and losing a legal bid to enter the NFL draft after

his freshman season at Ohio State, Clarett was eventually drafted

by the Denver Broncos but never made the final roster.

Then there is that criminal history that will follow Clarett

forever.

“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,” said Clarett, 26, who also got some work

in practice as a kick returner as well as with the punt coverage

team.

The UFL and the Nighthawks, a first-year franchise stocked with

former NFL stars such as quarterback Jeff Garcia and running back

Ahman Green, are giving Clarett a solid platform and opportunity

for what he hopes will be a comeback success story.

As for those who may be scrutinizing his every move, Clarett

said that kind of negative attention isn’t his concern.

“I really have nothing to say to them. My focus is here

with the Nighthawks and the organization and moving forward,”

Clarett said. “I’m just going to find out how I can

contribute to the team.”

The Nighthawks’ inaugural season begins Sept. 24 with a

home game against the Hartford Colonels at Johnny Rosenblatt

Stadium.