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Maurice Clarett has joined the Tiger Rugby Olympic Development Program in Columbus, Ohio. “He’s committed to try to make Rio 2016,” said Tiger Rugby director Paul Holmes. “That’s Maurice’s plan.”

The 29-year-old former Ohio State and Denver Broncos running back met and worked out with Holmes Wednesday before agreeing to join the program. Holmes was impressed with Clarett’s athleticism, despite his being out of football for years.

“He’s ridiculous. That’s all I can say,” said Holmes of Clarett. “His footwork is phenomenal. He’s nowhere near conditioned for rugby, but that will come…The stuff he’s doing in the gym right now, he’s just ridiculous.”

Clarett was a Parade All American in high school and rushed for 1,237 yards as a freshman at Ohio State, scoring the winning touchdown in the 2003 National Championship game in overtime against Miami. Clarett left Ohio State after his freshman season and lost a legal battle to enter the NFL Draft early before being taken in the third round by the Broncos a year later.

Clarett was released by the Broncos before the start of the 2005 season. He then got into well-documented legal trouble, including armed robbery and illegal gun possession, that put him in jail from the fall of 2006 to the spring of 2010. Clarett then played one season with the United Football League’s Omaha Nighthawks.

Given Clarett’s checkered past and high profile, Walker and Holmes did their homework before announcing his involvement with Tiger Rugby.

“We hit up a few guys whose opinion we value in Columbus,” said Walker. “We’ve been assured by people that we trust that he’s a different person, that he’s found himself. And I believe in giving him a shot.”

“I think the big thing with Maurice is the maturity that’s beyond a lot of other guys, just because of the life experience he’s gone through, and I think he’s learned to look at the bigger picture in life,” added Holmes.

“He’s going to schools, going to youth groups, going to colleges and pretty much doing a lot of public speaking with his book that’s out, and he’s helping change people’s lives, and his attitude’s a lot different to most of the guys that I see, or you hear stories about coming from the NFL or are doing the crossover. There’s a humility there that was very welcoming to see.”

Clarett is not the first former NFL player to make a run at rugby, but he’s certainly the most famous. Some crossover projects, like Carlin Isles and Miles Craigwell, have been successes, while others, like Tommy Saunders and Bennie Brazell, have been flops. Some failures have been, in part, due to a lack of financial gratification.

“That’s essentially point number one we talk about,” said Walker. “We say, ‘Listen, there’s no glamor here. It’s going to be a lot of hard work. There’s a small chance of a payout for some players at the end of the rainbow, but at the end of the day you’re taking a massive risk. Don’t look at us to pay you, because we don’t have any money.’”

“At no point in our conversation have I promised him anything,” added Holmes. “I’ve told him that as far as I’m concerned, he doesn’t know the game of rugby. He’s going to have to learn the rugby and we’ll go from there.”

“We are very, very up front with the guys about what the financial model in rugby is,” continued Walker. “In the case of a guy like Maurice, he’s already 29, it’s not like he’s going to have a long career making a load of money playing professional rugby in France.

“He’s a very interesting story of redemption. He’s a guy who had the world at his feet and he chose the wrong path as a young man, and he’s now basically finding himself, and over the course of the past few years, trying to correct as many mistakes as possible, and that kind of led him to rugby. He says that money is the last thing on his mind. I truly believe him.”

Clarett, a Columbus resident, will begin training with Tiger immediately. He joins several Columbus-area rugby players at the ODP, as well as former Fordham safety Isiejah Allen, who is also trying to transition to the sport of rugby.

Allen recently made his rugby debut with Scioto Valley in a 15s friendly. He and Clarett will continue their rugby education outside the confines of the Tiger training facility.

“There’s been a lot of talk already that Tiger’s just trying to promote the local game or potentially that Columbus Rugby Club’s going to be a huge beneficiary,” said Holmes.

“I think what’s huge to remember here is our number one goal is the players. We’ve got a lot of players that are going to come into town and then play with us and train with us, and then they’re going to go back home to their clubs.

“Guys like Isiejah, who has moved his entire life here, he basically brought everything – his TV, the whole lot – in his car to Columbus. I think that’s natural that he’s going to play with the local guys, and I recommend them to.

“Maurice, he’s a Columbus local as well, so if he chooses to play 15s and follow that path, yes the Columbus team is going to benefit from having guys like that in here. We’d be fools to put guys that haven’t played any rugby not in a rugby team, right?”

The Olympic Development Program unveiled in November, along with the success and stardom of Carlin Isles, has apparently increased rugby attractiveness.