Ex-Ohio State star Maurice Clarett signs contract with UFL's Omaha Nighthawks

Former Ohio State star Maurice Clarett has signed a one-year contract with the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League.

Clarett met Monday with team officials and UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue, who gave his blessing.

Clarett was expected to be on the practice field Monday night for his first football activity since he was a bust with the Denver Broncos and spent 3½ years in prison for having a hidden gun and holding up two people outside a Columbus, Ohio, bar, in 2006.

"I am humbled by the opportunity the Omaha Nighthawks have given me and will dedicate myself on and off the field to prove that I can be a valuable member of the team and the Omaha community," Clarett said in a statement. "I am committed to working hard to earn the right for a second chance in football and more importantly in life."

Clarett, who is not scheduled to meet with reporters until Wednesday, went through a private workout and physical Sunday.

"The things you can't coach you can see were there — footwork, hands, those types of things. And he's in really good physical condition," general manager Rick Mueller said. "Those were the things that jumped out more than anything else. He's done a pretty good job getting himself in condition to play football."

Clarett, 26, needed a judge's permission to leave Ohio to work out for the Nighthawks. He was allowed to be out of state for 30 days. Nighthawks general manager Rick Mueller said he's confident Clarett will be allowed to stay the entire season in Omaha and that he won't be barred from traveling to road games.

Clarett ran into trouble after a sensational freshman year at Ohio State in 2002. He rushed for 1,237 yards and 18 touchdowns, the last one clinching a victory in the national title game against Miami.

He was suspended the entire 2003 season for taking gifts and lying to the NCAA. He later lost a court case challenging the NFL's rule requiring a player to be out of high school three years before becoming eligible for the draft.

The Denver Broncos drafted Clarett in the third round in 2005, but he was hindered by a groin problem, never played in a preseason game and was cut before the regular season.

His downward spiral continued with the robbery, which landed him in prison and then, for the last 4½ months, in a community-based lockdown dormitory.

Huygue had said that he wouldn't allow Clarett to sign with the Nighthawks unless the team provided a strong support system. Ahman Green, a native of Omaha and four-time Pro Bowler with the Green Bay Packers, has agreed to serve as Clarett's mentor.

"I met with Maurice Clarett today and additionally reviewed all of the reports surrounding his circumstances," Huygue said. "I support allowing his return to football and believe he will make the most of this opportunity with the Omaha Nighthawks."

Clarett has the full support of his former coach, Ohio State's Jim Tressel. He said he received several calls from people associated with the UFL about whether Clarett would be interested in making a comeback.

"I think he kind of felt good that there was some interest," Tressel said.

Besides Green, the Nighthawks feature Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia and several other players with NFL experience.

"We're going to be patient with him," Mueller said of Clarett. "We have to be smart about it and so does Maurice. This kid is anxious to get out there and show what he can do, but it's no good if he's hurt.

"He's done everything he can personally, legally and physically to put himself in condition to be successful. Now we have to find out if he can get back."


AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.