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Seeking NFL love



Published: Mon, April 18, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The ex-Buckeye hopes his cleaned-up act finds a buyer.

By JOE SCALZO

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

A few hours after Maurice Clarett's private workout in Bazetta Township in late March, Josh Luchs, one of Clarett's agents, was sitting at an airport restaurant counter in Cleveland when ESPN began showing highlights of the workout.

"And there's this bald-headed, tattooed guy sitting there at the counter just spewing out profanities about Maurice," Luchs said. "I'm not going to repeat what he said, but let's just say he's not being complimentary."

Just then, ESPN showed an interview of Luchs and fellow agent Steve Feldman. The guy watched, then turned around and said, "Hey, you're the agents."

In the airport the day before, Luchs and Feldman helped a federal marshal subdue a prisoner who started fighting with the marshal. Now they were wondering if they were going to get in another fight.

"We just had to hold back and contain ourselves," Luchs said. "The people who are Clarett-haters are going to criticize everything he's ever done. And the people who are objective are going to formulate an opinion based on what they see."

Moving on

And what Luchs hopes they see is the Clarett from the past month, not the one who spent the previous two years as a lightning rod for criticism.

As far as Luchs is concerned, the past should be kept in the past. The NCAA investigations are over, the suit against the NFL failed and, for the first time in two years, Clarett can focus fully on football.

"He's getting back to himself," Luchs said. "He's very close to the Maurice he was as a freshman. When we first met him, he looked like he hadn't smiled for a year and a half."

Clarett's last few months have been bumpy at times. After running disappointing 40-yard dash times in the 4.7 and 4.8 range at the NFL Combine, Clarett basically quit before the workout was over, reinforcing the opinion of many NFL scouts that he was selfish and immature.

But the former Ohio State standout, who grew up on Youngstown's South Side, ran a 4.67 at last month's private workout and his stock has slowly started to rise. He's gotten leaner and fitter over the past weeks and he's said all the right things in interviews.

Late-round prediction

After the Combine, many thought he would be lucky to be drafted. Now he's projected to go in the fifth or sixth round.

He's also become more accessible, doing an interview with ESPN and appearing on Fox's "Best Damn Sports Show Period" last week.

"That was his first time in front of a live crowd and it went great," Luchs said. "He talked about becoming humble and had a lot of fun. He smiled an awful lot."

Of course Clarett, who did not respond to an interview request, has ample incentive to behave, just as Luchs has ample incentive to put the best possible spin on his client's situation. A few weeks of good marks certainly isn't going to erase the bad marks he's accumulated over the past two years.

But it's a start.

"Nobody's perfect," said Clarett's cousin, Syracuse running back Walter Reyes, who is expected to be a mid-round draft pick this weekend. "Maurice, I believe in my heart he's learned from everything and he's headed in the right direction.

"He'll be fine. Some team will draft him, get a talented player and he'll do fine in the NFL. All he wanted was a chance to play in the NFL and he had to sit out two years. It'll take awhile to get back in the groove, but he'll get there."

Little communication

His high school coach, Warren Harding's Thom McDaniels, helped set up last month's private workout. McDaniels, however, was in Florida at the time and hasn't talked to Clarett in more than a year; nor has he tried.

"That's not the arrangement," McDaniels said. "The arrangement is, he calls me, I don't call him."

Still, McDaniels has kept track of Clarett through the papers and national TV broadcasts and has been encouraged by what he's seen over the past few weeks.

"I think the best thing for him is to be drafted by someone, get signed quickly, get in camp on time and do whatever he can to make the right impression," McDaniels said.

Best player

When Clarett was in high school, McDaniels -- who has coached several eventual NFL players, including Colts safety Mike Doss and Dolphins fullback Jamar Martin -- said Clarett was the best player he'd ever coached.

He hasn't changed his mind.

"Sure, sure," he said. "I haven't had a better one yet."

But that doesn't mean he'll become the most successful football player McDaniels has coached. Only time will decide that.

"Maurice is a good dude," Luchs said. "He's leaner and lighter than he was at the combine and if he was working out right now, he'd be that much better. As much as he improved from the combine to the workout, that's how much he's improved since then.

"Some lucky team is going to get a guy who's a lot more ready to play than they expect."

scalzo@vindy.com




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