Holmes at training camp as Clarett heads to jail
LATROBE, Pa. -- Sure, Santonio Holmes had heard the news. Who hadn't? His former Ohio State teammate and, yes, his friend, Maurice Clarett once again was in handcuffs, in a courtroom, and most definitely in trouble.
This time Clarett is charged with carrying concealed weapons after police found four loaded guns in his vehicle. Of course, Clarett made them work for it. There was a highway car chase that didn't end until his tires were punctured. They tasered him, but the man was wearing a bulletproof vest. A bulletproof vest. They finally had to use pepper spray to subdue him, and even then he kept trying to squirm for extra yardage in the back of the squad car.
Yeah, that sounds like Clarett -- always tough to bring down with one defender.
Holmes heard the news here at the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp on the campus of Saint Vincent College, where Benedictine priests in robed attire stand on the sidelines during seven-on-seven drills. Meanwhile, back in Columbus, Ohio, Clarett is behind bars, his future, if you can call it that, in stark contrast to the possibilities available to the millionaire Holmes, who was the Steelers' first-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.
"The first thing that ran through my mind when I heard about it is, I don't know what got into this guy," said the rookie wide receiver after Wednesday evening's practice. "He's a changed man. At first, he had goals set to be a running back in the NFL. Now I don't know where he's going to go."
How about prison? There's the concealed weapons charge, a traffic violation and the likelihood of additional federal charges being filed as early as Thursday. Those will make his pending aggravated robbery case look small time.
What now seems like decades ago, a younger, more carefree Clarett led the Buckeyes to a national championship in 2002. He was a true freshman, and in that same Ohio State class was a wide receiver from Belle Glade, Fla. -- Holmes.
Holmes redshirted that year, while Clarett became a national star. His Buckeyes career, so to speak, would essentially last one brilliant and bizarre season. Before long, he was gone. You know most of the details. Everybody does.
"I don't know what happened to him, what got into him," said Holmes. "I just know that's not the Maurice Clarett that I knew. And I know the fans know that's not the Maurice Clarett that played football at Ohio State."
Clarett would have been a senior last season. He could have been part of one of the great Ohio State NFL draft classes. Holmes was chosen with the No. 25 pick. Clarett could have ... should have been there, too.
"No doubt," said Holmes, when asked if Clarett had NFL-level talent.
But that was then. The thought of Clarett's playing football again is so preposterously small that it's not even worth discussing. Football? Clarett's next uniform could be something in the prison jumpsuit variety. And it could be that way for a very long, long time.
Maybe that's why Holmes sounded like someone who couldn't fully comprehend how far Clarett had fallen. He remembers the engaging Clarett, the playful Clarett, the smiling Clarett. That's the Clarett he roots for. This other Clarett isn't familiar to him.
"I just know he's not that type of person everybody is portraying him to be," Holmes said.
It isn't a portrayal. It's fact. Clarett's rap sheet is longer than a corn stalk. If he hasn't hit rock bottom, he can see it from his jail cell.
As Holmes walked slowly off the field Wednesday night (he had an ice wrap on one leg), fans began calling his name. They wanted autographs. They always want autographs.
Holmes limped over to the ropes separating the Steelers fans from one of the practice fields and began signing. About 30 yards away, someone held up an Ohio State jersey.
Ah, yes, there are Buckeyes everywhere, including a troubled and disgraced one in Columbus. Needless to say, the OSU fans weren't holding up Clarett's old number, the one that used to be for sale in Columbus supermarkets and souvenir shops.
Strange how this worked out. Then again, there is nothing ordinary about the life and troubled times of Maurice Clarett.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.