What really happened to Clarett

In another example of how five seconds can definitively change your life, we present you with Maurice Clarett.

He ran/jogged a 4.82-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine -- live on national TV, no less -- and now he's a mystery all over again. Everyone is taking shots at Clarett. Some media members actually sat in the press room Saturday laughing out loud at his expense. One NFC scout said he could've run better than Clarett.

But that wasn't the worst of it. After Clarett ran a 4.72 in his second attempt -- and decided, out of frustration, to blow off the rest of the drills -- many teams wrote him off completely. They said if he quits at a combine, he'll quit in a fourth quarter somewhere. That's how a lot of NFL people think, and probably nothing can change their minds ... not even the whole story.

But someone -- maybe an Arizona, maybe an Oakland -- will try to find out what really happened to Maurice Clarett at the combine and over the last 12 months. And maybe then they'll get off his back.

Let's go back a year, to the 2004 combine. Clarett, who at the time was eligible for the draft, noticed how the scouts, during the weigh-in, were salivating over Greg Jones of Florida State. Jones was chiseled, looking like an Adonis, and a flabby Clarett made a mental note right then that it should've been him.

Later, after the courts had removed him from the 2004 draft, his mind kept drifting back to Jones. If he was going to repeat the process, and parade again in front of NFL scouts in his underwear, he was going to be buff. In fact, he said he was going to look better than Jones. He was going to look like David Boston.

In retrospect, it was a mistake. Boston, the sculpted Miami Dolphins wide receiver, has tried in the past to play at 250-plus pounds, and has experienced knee problems as a result. Clarett ended up following a similar training and eating regimen and, while he appeared rock solid, his body mass had increased too much. His work ethic was commendable and his body fat was plummeting, but his weight was exorbitant and there had to be some doubt about what it would do to his speed.

Eventually, by late January, he was ready to choose his agents. And in concert with his attorney, David Kenner, he settled on Steve Feldman, who represents Corey Dillon and Rodney Harrison of the world champion New England Patriots. Feldman and his associate, Josh Luchs, explained to Clarett that he had to get his weight down, preferably in the 220s, and Kenner -- Clarett's most trusted confidant -- agreed with them.

By this time, Clarett still had not settled on a permanent trainer, so on his own, according to Kenner, he began working "16-hour days" in Los Angeles to get trimmer and leaner. No one knows how heavy he'd been at his apex -- although it's conceivable he'd been around 250 pounds at one point -- but it was through tireless work that he showed up in Indianapolis at 234.

The problem was, his body might have been sapped from losing a lot of weight in a short period of time. And he was also way too nervous, skittish that his entire future was coming down to a three-day period in Indianapolis. He actually ended up flying into Indy two days ahead of the combine, afraid that he couldn't get a proper workout in rain-infested Southern California. That's how intent he was about performing well; he was borderline neurotic about it.

The first two days of the combine seemed to ease his fears a little. His press conference, his first public appearance in a year, was an unequivocal success. He never bashed his former school, Ohio State, and he explained that he'd do every drill the NFL people asked him to do, that he was willing to play special teams next season or be third string. His interviews with teams went smoothly as well, because he was forthright and humble.

A year before, when a few teams asked about his family, he snapped, "What does my family have to do with anything? I'm here to play football." He'd been confrontational, a loner, but this time he was one of the pack. Players wanted to eat meals with him, were following him around, were asking him questions about the combine.

After he did 22 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press -- one of the best numbers put up by a running back -- most teams were beginning to perceive him as a first-day draft pick. They liked that his body fat was down from almost 17 percent last year to 11.4 percent this year.

But every night, late at night, he'd still get back on the hotel treadmill. He was worried about the 40, knew he had to deliver in the 40.

The pressure had to be getting to him. No one was more scrutinized that week than him, and on the day before the 40-yard dashes, he took off during his lunch break and ran wind sprints on an outdoor track in 30-degree weather.

Even that night, 14 hours before his 40-yard dash, he was back on the hotel treadmill, running, thinking, analyzing.

The next day, of course, was a disaster. He's never been a speedster anyway, but his 40s lacked explosion. He looked spent, defeated. The worst thing he could've done was quit, but that's what he did, on a whim, overwhelmed by the embarrassment of it all. Last year, completely out of shape, he had run a 4.6. This year, in shape, he'd run a 4.8.

His closest confidants felt he'd over-trained, but the spin had already been spun by then. Word traveled fast. NFL people said he was a bust, that he might not get drafted. It broke his heart, and in a post-40 interview with The NFL Network, which no one in their right mind would have expected him to do, he was inconsolable and took full responsibility for his collapse.

Where does he go from here? He's back in L.A., and he's headed back to the gym, back to a trainer who specializes in speed and fast muscle twitch. He said he will work out at Ohio State's Pro Day, on March 9, but this is news to Ohio State, where he is essentially on a black list.

Either way, he will run again, at a weight better suited for the 40, and his hope is that some team, any team will bring a stopwatch.

Because all it takes is one.

Tom Friend is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at tom.friend@espnmag.com.