Judge gives ex-Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett approval to leave state, go to tryout

Former Ohio State star Maurice Clarett believes he's ready to make another run at professional football.

Clarett received permission Wednesday to leave Ohio to try out for the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League. He served 3½ years in prison for having a hidden gun and holding up two people outside a bar, then spent 4½ months in a community-based, lockdown dormitory.

Looking fit and relaxed in a gray suit, purple dress shirt and dark purple tie, the 26-year-old Clarett did not speak before Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge David Fais.

As he was awaiting an elevator in the hall after the seven-minute hearing, Clarett nodded yes when asked three questions: Did he welcome the opportunity to try out for the team? Was he physically ready to play pro football? Was he relieved that the judge granted his request?

Then he left to meet with a probation officer.

In asking for Clarett to be granted 30 days in Nebraska for the tryout, attorney Martin Midian said, "We would like the court to not consider this as any special treatment, but as a job interview — as would be the case for anyone appearing before this court who might ask for such an opportunity."

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel sent a letter to Fais asking the judge to grant the request.

"Please allow this letter to serve as validation that Maurice Clarett does indeed have a legitimate opportunity for employment with the Omaha, Nebraska, team in the United Football League," the letter read. "Please consider allowing him to travel out of state to seek this opportunity."

Nighthawks GM Rick Mueller issued a statement Tuesday saying he wanted to help Clarett take "positive steps toward being the good citizen and solid family man that he aspires to be."

Mueller said the Nighthawks would try out Clarett as soon as possible.

Clarett, a prep star in Warren, Ohio, was an instant sensation at Ohio State. He rushed for 1,237 yards while leading the Buckeyes to a 13-0 record going into the national championship showdown against top-ranked Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. Clarett scored the winning touchdown in double overtime, lifting Ohio State to its first national title in 34 years.

The fall was just as swift as the rise.

Within months, Clarett had been declared ineligible by the NCAA for accepting money from a booster. Clarett accused Ohio State of padding grades and allowing football players to take easy classes, then sued the NFL to be permitted to enter the draft ahead of the three-year waiting period. He eventually lost in court, then was arrested on Jan. 1, 2006.

Former NFL running back Ahman Green, now with the Nighthawks, said he had spoken with Clarett in recent days.

"He sounded very positive," Green said. "Hopefully we'll get him in by the end of the week, if not early next week, and I'll kind of be his mentor."

Omaha player personnel director Ted Sundquist was general manager of the Denver Broncos when they drafted Clarett in the third round in 2005. Limited by a groin injury, he was cut during the preseason.

"He's truly on the path to trying to right his life and do what's right," Sundquist said Wednesday. "He has a little daughter and I know he's very close to her mother.

"One of the things that really jumped out at me was the support he's gotten from Jim Tressel, the fact he is back in school. everything in my conversation with him, as I compare and contrast it to the last time I spoke with him, said this guy deserves a second chance."

Another one of his attorneys, Nick Mango, said this was a fresh start for his client.

"He's ready to move on," Mango said. "He's been extremely anxious. He just wants to get out there and get going."


AP Sports Writer Eric Olson in Omaha, Neb., contributed to this report.