COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Terrelle Pryor, who announced through his attorney Tuesday that he would bypass his senior season at Ohio State, made thousands of dollars autographing memorabilia in 2009-10, a former friend who says he witnessed the transactions has told "Outside the Lines."
The signings for cash, which would be a violation of NCAA rules, occurred a minimum of 35 to 40 times, netting Pryor anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 that year, the former friend says. The source spoke to ESPN under the condition that his face not be aired on TV and that his name not be published.
He said Pryor was paid $500 to $1,000 each time he signed mini football helmets and other gear for a Columbus businessman and freelance photographer, Dennis Talbott. Talbott twice denied to ESPN that he ever paid Pryor or any other active Buckeyes athlete to sign memorabilia. He said last week he has only worked with former players to set up signings.
On Tuesday evening, he declined to comment whether he had ever operated a sports memorabilia business and said he was not an Ohio State booster.
Pryor's former friend also told "Outside the Lines" that the player often received preferential treatment in the Columbus community, receiving thousands of dollars in free food at local restaurants and convenience stores, free drinks at bars and free tattoos. In addition, he said the quarterback had access to free loaner cars from local dealerships.
The source said he spent nearly every day with Pryor before their relationship soured when Pryor began taking on a more "arrogant" attitude after his 2009-10 season.
He said Pryor would get the merchandise to sign from Talbott, who would "bring it to TP, and he would sign it and he would bring him cash. Dennis would give him cash." He said he witnessed the transactions occur about three to four times a week at Pryor's apartment.
The former friend said Pryor would spend his money lavishly at times, that the player had a "shoe fetish" and bought many expensive hats, belts and pieces of jewelry. He said he was particularly fond of Gucci items. ESPN independently confirmed Pryor made multiple such purchases.
Pryor's attorney, Larry James, denied the allegations against his client.
"Terrelle did not sign memorabilia for cash," he said.
Ohio State spokesman Jim Lynch, when asked Wednesday by ESPN.com whether the university has investigated or is currently investigating Talbott, said: "We currently have an active investigation with the NCAA and we are unable to provide details of the specific case until that matter is resolved."
Pryor may not have been the first active Buckeyes player to collect cash for signatures from Talbott. The parent of one former Ohio State player told "Outside the Lines" that he saw Talbott provide what he called "stacks of money" to active Buckeyes players, including a player now in the NFL.
Pryor's former friend said he was wary of Talbott: "He's the type of person that ... I think he really took advantage over TP because he was that person, and he would bring him, he would bring TP like memorabilia to sell for other people. So Dennis is not a good guy for college athletes. That's the guy you really don't want to be around."
Talbott, 40, shot photos of the major sports teams in Ohio, including Ohio State and the Cincinnati Bengals, as a freelance photographer. He has sold images to ESPN.com in the past.
On Tuesday, he denied that he ever received game tickets from players, though records from Ohio State show that he and his wife were on a player's will-call ticket list multiple times throughout the 2008 season. When asked about those records, Talbott said he couldn't remember if he had received such tickets.
According to public websites, Talbott claims to have earned an undergraduate degree from Kent State University and later attended Ohio State briefly. However, the Kent State registrar's office told ESPN.com that Talbott attended only two semesters at the university. Ohio State officials confirmed to ESPN.com that Talbott attended the university for a brief period.
He has managed or owned staffing and employment recruiting businesses in the past decade, though a search of public records reveals a series of liens and financial judgments against him. The most substantial include an Internal Revenue Service lien filed in 2009 for $278,875 in unpaid federal taxes, followed by a state of Ohio tax lien in 2010 for $74,227.
The latest news about Pryor comes just eight days after Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel was forced to resign for not reporting information he'd received about players receiving improper benefits.
Pryor's career at Ohio State, which started with so much promise, came to an abrupt and scandal-ridden end Tuesday evening, when he announced through his attorney that he would not play for the Buckeyes this season. He had already been suspended for the first five games for breaking NCAA rules by accepting improper benefits from the owner of a tattoo parlor.
"In the best interests of my teammates, I've made the decision to forgo my senior year of football at The Ohio State University," Pryor said in a statement issued by James.
James said entering the next NFL supplemental draft is Pryor's "desire." But James acknowledged labor uncertainty could lead to consideration of the Canadian Football League or working with a personal quarterback coach first.
Tom Farrey is a reporter for Outside the Lines and Justine Gubar is a producer in ESPN's enterprise unit. ESPN.com investigative reporters Mike Fish and Paula Lavigne and the Associated Press contributed to this report.