The 2002 national championship season was a busy one for Maurice Clarett, whose freshman season was stellar but also full of turmoil and speculation about whether he might try to jump to the NFL after one season at Ohio State.
It was also a busy few months for Robert Dellimuti, the Warren, Ohio, caterer who paid for Clarett's cell phone his freshman year and stayed in daily contact with the star running back. Dellimuti called a Costa Rica sportsbook 27 times but says he never bet on Ohio State games.
Below is a timeline of Clarett's season, and Dellimuti's gambling-related calls. The information comes from newspaper archives and from phone records supplied by Dellimuti to Ohio State as part of a subsequent NCAA investigation. Calls identified as being made by Dellimuti came from the cell phone he currently uses and says belonged to him at that time, as well.
Clarett is named OSU's starting tailback as a true freshman. Around the same time, he criticizes teammates for not practicing hard enough.
In his collegiate debut, Clarett is electric, rushing 21 times for 175 yards and three touchdowns, including spectacular runs of 59 and 45 yards, against Texas Tech.
At 3:53 p.m., Dellimuti makes a 2.5-minute, toll-free call to Costa Rica-based SBG Global, one of the more prominent foreign sportsbooks. He calls SBG Global again at 8:06 p.m. for three minutes.
Dellimuti makes a 2.5-minute call to SBG Global at 5:59 p.m.
Dellimuti makes a 2.5-minute call to SBG Global at 11:33 a.m.
At 3:37 p.m., for 5.5 minutes, Dellimuti calls the general number for ATS Consultants, a Maryland-based tout service that provides gamblers with "invaluable inside information that is not available to the general public." The service claims to have informants in NCAA and pro sports.
Ohio State crushes Kent State 51-17 at home. Clarett had two touchdowns, but he gains just 66 yards on 11 carries and lost a fumble. "You see this facial expression? You know I'm not happy with my performance," Clarett said afterward.
On the morning of the game, Dellimuti travels from Cleveland to Columbus. At 10:32 a.m., he calls an ATS Consultants bulletin board for two minutes.
Dellimuti calls SBG Global for three minutes at 2:41 p.m.
Clarett goes off for 230 yards on 31 carries as Ohio State, ranked No. 8, beats No. 11 Washington State, 25-7, in Columbus. Afterward, Clarett discovers he had torn his the meniscus in his right knee.
At 10:19 a.m., Dellimuti calls SBG Global for an undetermined number of minutes.
Clarett undergoes knee surgery to repair torn meniscus. He wakes up the next morning and "can barely walk," he says later.
Dellimuti calls SBG Global for two minutes at 3:44 p.m.
Dellimuti calls SBG sportsbook for 2.5 minutes at 6:03 p.m.
Ohio State labors to a 23-19 win against Cincinnati. Its spark plug, Clarett, injured, watches from the sidelines.
Clarett starts running again.
Clarett has doctors remove the two stitches in his knee where the arthroscope went in.
Columbus Dispatch reports that Clarett is likely to start Saturday against Indiana. "We practiced in the rain today and Maurice was able to participate fully," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said the previous night (Thursday, Sept. 26). "I was surprised and pleased by the amount of explosion and acceleration he showed. It appears to me that he's ready to roll." Asked about Clarett's quick comeback, Tressel said, "The passion to play helps you heal."
Just 11 days after knee surgery, Clarett runs for 104 yards and three TDs as No. 6 Ohio State cruises to 45-17 victory over Indiana. With 10 touchdowns, Clarett already has scored more touchdowns than any freshman tailback at OSU since 1944. But it comes at a price: When his surgical incision rips in the second quarter, blood starts oozing out as his knee swells. At halftime, Tressel and running backs coach Tim Spencer refuse to put him back in the game unless he gets new stitches. On the first play of the second half, Clarett rips off a 23-yard run -- and his legend grows. He finally is pulled with 4:35 left in the third quarter after throwing his helmet in anger when coaches do not give him one more carry (a holding call erased a 27-yard carry, and he wanted another try). The team is coming to realize it needs Clarett's toughness and swagger.
Dellimuti travels to Columbus in time for the game, according to his cell phone records. At 10:34 a.m, he makes a two-minute phone call to an automated bulletin board of ATS Consultants. At 11:07 a.m., a little over one hour before the start of the Ohio State game, Dellimuti makes a four-minute phone call to SBG Global. After the game, while still in Columbus, Dellimuti calls SBG Global three times: at 3:46 p.m. for four minutes, at 4:52 p.m. for two minutes, and at 7:12 p.m. for two minutes.
Dellimuti calls SBG Global at 3:41 p.m. and talks for 4.5 minutes.
Dellimuti is mentioned in a Columbus Dispatch article as someone who talks daily with Clarett and someone who "took [Clarett] under his wing when the player transferred" high schools. The article also notes that Clarett sometimes stayed at an apartment in Warren owned by Dellimuti and that Dellimuti said he recently got a call from Tressel asking about a Lexus that Clarett is driving around campus and that turns out to be owned by a relative (Tressel later denies that account).
In the Dispatch article, Michelle Clarett also dismisses the notion that Maurice might challenge the NFL over its draft rule, despite playing just one season of college football: "We're not ones to look for loopholes because loopholes only make bigger holes."
In a 27-16 victory over Northwestern, Clarett rushes for 140 yards but fumbles three times and gets into a heated argument with Spencer on the sidelines. Tressel does not discipline Clarett.
Dellimuti makes a 2.5-minute phone call to SBG sportsbook at 4:54 p.m.
Clarett hits 100 yards rushing in a game for the fifth time, collecting 132 yards and two touchdowns in a 50-7 romp over San Jose State.
In an ESPN The Magazine cover story, Clarett talks theoretically about the notion of playing one year and leaving for the NFL. Photos of him firing his jersey to the ground accompany the article. A media firestorm grows over the next week.
Norma McGill, a teaching assistant in Clarett's African American Studies 101 class, notes that he had begun the course full of enthusiasm. In a report written this day, she described him this way: "Great attitude; seems to enjoy lecture; not afraid to raise hand and participate in class." She would later become the whistle-blower in a New York Times article that alleged favorable treatment for Clarett by the professor of that class, for allowing Clarett to take oral exams after walking out of a written midterm.
Also this day, Clarett tapes an interview with Kirk Herbstreit and says he will not challenge the NFL. In other interviews in coming days, Clarett says he is flooded with e-mail accusing him of not being loyal to the Buckeyes and expresses a desire to stay three years.
Clarett suffers a stinger just six plays into the Penn State game, and Ohio State escapes with a 13-7 win. With four carries for 39 yards, Clarett still becomes only the second true freshman in OSU history to reach 1,000 yards.
Also today, Dellimuti travels from Cleveland to Columbus around lunchtime and returns around midnight.
Dellimuti calls SBG Global at 3:35 p.m. for 3.5 minutes.
Tressel indicates in a press conference that he's not sure who is going to start at tailback against Minnesota because of Clarett's injury but that he expects all three tailbacks -- Maurice Hall, Lydell Ross and Clarett -- to play. During the week, the Dispatch reports that Clarett underwent "extensive treatment" for the shoulder stinger injury he suffered the previous week and that Ross and Hall got most of the work in practice.
No. 6 Ohio State beats No. 23 Minnesota 34-3 without Clarett, although he dresses out and appears as if he's ready to enter the game at any time -- all the better to distract Gophers coaches. His absence comes as a surprise to fans, who read in the morning edition of the Dispatch that Clarett is likely to play, with the article citing Tressel's most recent public comments, on Thursday. The Cleveland Plain Dealer is even more definitive, reporting that Clarett will play.
Dellimuti, who does not go to the game, calls SGB Global sportsbook from the Youngstown area at 9:32 a.m. for an undetermined number of minutes.
Just after midnight in Cleveland, his cell phone records indicate, Dellimuti flies to Las Vegas, arriving shortly after midnight PT and staying up at least until noon.
Later in the day, back in Columbus, Clarett re-injures his shoulder in practice.
In the Dispatch, Clarett expresses hope that doctors will allow him to play against Purdue, and Tressel seems inclined to gamble with the injury but says it may be a "pregame decision just as it was last week" against Minnesota when doctors held him out.
Dellimuti flies back from Las Vegas around 11 a.m., arriving in Cleveland around 8 p.m. He calls The Bellagio in Vegas a half hour later for two minutes.
Dellimuti calls The Bellagio again, at 10:10 a.m. for 9.5 minutes.
Clarett's strength in his left shoulder and arm will be tested today by team medical personnel, Tressel says in the Dispatch. If they find no lingering effects from the stinger injury that kept him out last week against Minnesota, there's a good chance he will start at Purdue. Spencer also convinces Clarett to wear a collar to protect against aggravating the stinger.
In a profile of Clarett in The Washington Post, Thom McDaniels, his high school coach, says, "He's a bright young kid, but socially I felt he would struggle and he has, because he is a loner. He does not need or seek a lot of friends and doesn't nurture relationships. He is largely distrustful of people, and I don't really have a problem with that because I encourage him to be, because in the world we live in and the situation he is in, he has to be careful with the people he associates with."
Clarett leaves early in No. 3 Ohio State's 10-6 win against Purdue as the Buckeyes run their record to 11-0, matching the best start in school history. Another stinger sidelines Clarett after halftime. Before the game, OSU rules-compliance coordinator Heather Lyke reportedly questions him about taking money from an agent.
At 9:54 p.m., Dellimuti calls The Bellagio in Las Vegas for one minute.
Ohio State is ranked No. 1 in the BCS standings. But a lack of offense for the past month -- in which Clarett has scored no touchdowns -- has fans worried. "The drop-off in OSU's offense can be directly tied to the shoulder injury suffered by Maurice Clarett," writes Dispatch columnist Todd Jones.
In the morning newspapers, Clarett says his shoulder is feeling no pain. He's listed as "probable" for the upcoming game against Illinois, and Tressel mentions that, amazingly, tests on his running back showed, "He was a little stronger Sunday than he was Friday." Clarett adds: "I'll just give the team what I can give them, like I gave them three quarters the last game. If I can give them two quarters this game, I'll be happy."
Dellimuti calls SBG Global sportsbook at 1:18 p.m. for 2.5 minutes.
Clarett sits out his third game of the season as Ohio State escapes with an overtime win, 23-16, against Illinois, preserving the Buckeyes' national title hopes.
Clarett rushes for 119 yards on 20 carries and scores one touchdown as OSU beats Michigan, 14-9, to secure a Fiesta Bowl bid. He finishes with a new freshman school record of 1,190 yards. Outside the gates before the game, members of the Steelworkers-funded Collegiate Athletes Coalition, led by former UCLA linebacker Ramogi Huma, pass out 70,000 leaflets that say, "The players that you are watching today are at risk." Leaflets cite the lack of year-round medical coverage, a minimal death benefit and the ability of schools to pull scholarships after each year. Excited about the victory, fans riot after the game, setting fires around town.
At the team's postseason banquet, Clarett is named the Buckeyes' most outstanding back and top offensive newcomer.
Early December: Clarett's attitude about school has changed, McGill notes in a follow-up report: "Maurice is a mixed bag. Sometimes motivated, but will not put forth the effort it takes."
From the Youngstown area, Dellimuti calls the current office number of OSU defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio at 11:03 p.m. for an undetermined number of minutes. Dantonio later tells ESPN.com that Dellimuti called him strictly to discuss Prescott Burgess, a Warren high school prospect who was being recruited by Ohio State but ultimately signed with Michigan.
At a Fiesta Bowl media day, Clarett says that he admires Miami and that he wanted to be a Hurricane ("Ask Coach Tressel") but that he hates to fly. Reporters love his honesty; Buckeye fans recoil. His candor is even celebrated by a Dispatch columnist when he says at a press conference, "I'm real straightforward. I just don't like a lot of the B.S. I'm only doing this today because [OSU sports information director] Steve Snapp asked me to. If it were up to me, I wouldn't be here."
Newspapers report that Clarett says his shoulder is "100 percent," but his coaches say it's less than that and announce that they'll hold him out of contact drills in preparation for the Miami game. The Chicago Tribune reports that his health is critical to the Buckeyes because Clarett believes he has run tentatively since injuring the shoulder.
Dellimuti calls SBG Global at 7:28 p.m. for 2.5 minutes.
Buckeyes players sing Christmas carols for thousands of fans at a Columbus shopping area as sporting-goods and apparel stores sell OSU merchandise by the armload, including a surprising number of $250 helmets. Salespeople from Champs worked the crowd, hawking jerseys and T-shirts. Waldenbooks set up a card table at its entrance featuring Buckeyes books. Clarett skips the event, reportedly because of a dental appointment.
Clarett's childhood friend Juaquin "Juan" Bell, 23, is gunned down in Youngstown. Bell is shot multiple times by an unknown assailant. Youngstown police say money, bullet casings and drugs were found at the scene.
Clarett registers a 1993 Cadillac El Dorado with the state of Ohio. He reports to the state that he purchased the car from a Youngstown woman for $1,000.
Dellimuti calls SBG Global sportsbook at 9:44 a.m. for 3.5 minutes.
On Christmas Day, Dellimuti calls SBG Global for an undetermined number of minutes at 9:35 p.m.
Clarett accompanies OSU to Phoenix for the Fiesta Bowl.
At 4:33 p.m., Dellimuti calls SBG Global for two minutes.
Dellimuti calls SBG Global twice: at 12:07 p.m. for two minutes and at 2:39 p.m. for 3.5 minutes.
Dellimuti calls SBG Global at 1:13 p.m. for an undetermined number of minutes.
Clarett says he's unhappy because he wasn't able to go to Bell's funeral. "I'm kind of messed up because they jerked me kind of," he says of OSU athletics officials who couldn't arrange the trip back to Youngstown. "I'm not supposed to be here." He adds, "So that's why I'm just ready to get the game over and go back home." OSU athletics director Andy Geiger says the school did not stand in the way of Clarett returning for the funeral. He says that Lyke, the compliance officer, had explained to Clarett that if he filled out the NCAA-required paperwork substantiating his need, the money likely would have been forthcoming. Clarett also was given the option of buying his own ticket and seeking reimbursement after filling out the proper paperwork.
Clarett questions Ohio State's priorities: "All the money is going to the wrong place. We're in college. They take care of us. We're cool. I'd rather give back to people who really need it." He cites the homeless of Columbus.
At 5:06 p.m., Dellimuti calls SBG Global for three minutes.
Media Day at the Fiesta Bowl does not quell the flames. Clarett tells reporters that OSU officials failed to respond to his request to return home for Bell's funeral. "They're going to make themselves look better than me," he said. "They're going to make me look stupid like I did something to put myself in this situation." Clarett said that he filled out the paperwork the Thursday before the Buckeyes departed for their national title game and that his mother, Michelle, signed it. "They can't lie about that," Clarett said. "I won't sit here and let them lie about that."
From the Youngstown area, Dellimuti calls SBG Global at 6:15 p.m. for 2.5 minutes.
Dellimuti calls SBG Global at 9:38 a.m. for 2.5 minutes.
Dellimuti flies to Fiesta Bowl, arriving late at night, his phone records indicate.
Ohio State claims its first national championship in 34 years with a win against Miami, aided by Clarett's 47 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime. After the game, Clarett admits experiencing mixed emotions: "This doesn't mean anything to me. I just want to go home," he says. After the game, he leaves the locker room quickly and gathers with friends and family next to the fence outside Sun Devil Stadium.
Dellimuti flies Clarett to Las Vegas with him for the better part of a day before returning to Ohio. Clarett reportedly reimburses him later for the plane ticket.
Tom Farrey is a senior writer with ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.