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Clarett claims he'll be model citizen after troubled past

DENVER -- He sat out for two years, sued the NFL and
alienated his alma mater. After being regarded as one of the best
prospects in the country, he wound up as little more than an
out-of-shape curiosity.

Maurice Clarett Clarett

It's no wonder Maurice Clarett surprised a lot of people by
getting chosen in the third round of the draft. On Sunday, he
reported to his new team and his new life, wearing a smile and
holding a Denver Broncos jersey.

He claimed his troubled past was now "water under the bridge."
He said he would be a model citizen for the Broncos -- no holdouts
or attitude problems here. Most of all, he said he had been humbled
after two years of unseemly turmoil and was glad to be playing
football again.

"I'd like for, when people say my name, to mention me with the
Denver Broncos and not with all the hoopla and everything else,"
Clarett said at his introductory news conference.

Nobody forgets about past misdeeds more quickly than NFL coaches
and scouts in search of talent. The Broncos -- especially coach Mike
Shanahan and assistant Bobby Turner -- were impressed with what
Clarett did over his freshman year at Ohio State, along with the
way he carried himself during his two years on the sideline.

Thus, the first big surprise of draft weekend: Not that Clarett
was chosen, but that he was chosen so early, in the third round --
pick No. 101 -- after most experts had predicted he would go no
earlier than in the fifth.

"Coach Turner took a gamble on me, as did coach Shanahan, and I
don't want to make them look stupid," Clarett said.

Shortly after Clarett led Ohio State to the 2002 national title
as a freshman, his odyssey began.

He had a minor scrape with the law. He got in trouble for
accepting improper benefits and lying about it to investigators,
and Ohio State suspended him for the 2003 season.

He sued the NFL, challenging the league's rule that a player
must be out of high school for three years before becoming eligible
for the draft. One court ruled in his favor, but a higher court
overturned the ruling and two appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court
failed to reverse that decision.

Another season on the sideline ensued, during which Clarett
accused coach Jim Tressel and his staff of arranging for him to get
passing grades, cars, and money for bogus summer jobs.

Then came the workouts, which were nothing short of disastrous.
He clocked times of 4.82 and 4.72 seconds in the 40-yard run at the
NFL combine two months ago and was so distraught, he quit in the
middle of the workout.

At another workout, a few weeks later, he improved on the time,
but his reputation was cemented -- overweight, too slow and, to top
it all off, maybe a quitter, too.

"In 2002, he would have been the steal of the draft and today
people are surprised he went on the first day," Cleveland Browns
general manager Phil Savage said when the Broncos chose Clarett.
"It's a story that will be followed for a long time."

In Denver, Clarett has found the perfect place to try to make a
comeback, and he has a coach who thinks his experience will work in
his favor.

"Here's a guy who's got his back to the wall," Shanahan said.
"He wants to prove he's not a one-year wonder and wants to come
out and play at that level again."

The Broncos turned Terrell Davis into a star after he languished
at Georgia and was picked in the sixth round. Mike Anderson.
Olandis Gary. Reuben Droughns. All were afterthoughts in the draft,
but all ran for 1,000 yards with the Broncos.

None of those players, however, carries the baggage Clarett
does.

"His thing is going to be a character thing and Mike will
handle that," Lions CEO Matt Millen said.

Clarett is, by most accounts, one of the most divisive players
in college history.

Not only did he try to flout the NFL and its supposedly
sacrosanct rule, he also dissed on his alma mater -- more than once.
The first came before the national title game, when he said "I
guess football is more important than a person's life to them,"
because Ohio State wouldn't let him travel to a friend's funeral.
The second came with the accusations against Tressel.

He described his comments as simply a matter of "clearing the
air."

"My relationship with Ohio State is a good one," he said.

What he really wants to do is wipe the slate clean and start
playing football again.

As expected, two years away has drastically changed his
perspective, helping him learn right from wrong and helping him
learn to "mature and grow and accept humility."

He promised he would not be a problem player anymore, said he
couldn't wait to start bonding with teammates again. And if the
Broncos tell him he needs to lose weight or run more, he said he'll
do it -- no questions asked.

"I think it's a happy ending right now," Clarett said. "I'm
in a great system, with a great team that runs the ball. I'm here,
living a dream right now in the NFL."