Former Buckeye and Denver Bronco Maurice Clarrett switches to Rugby 7s for Olympic glory

Former Buckeye and Denver Bronco Maurice Clarrett switches to Rugby 7s for Olympic glory

Maurice Clarett, the former Ohio State Buckeyes running back who was drafted by the Denver Broncos before going to jail, then re-emerging in the United Football League with the Omaha Nighthawks, has spoken about his decision to attempt a switch to rugby in time for the Rio Olympics in 2016. Speaking on CBS Sports Radio's The Doug Gottlieb Show, Clarett, 29, said: "I've never played rugby, I've always watched it and been intrigued by it, because I thought it resembled football in a lot of ways. I have ventured over to something that is very physical, very fast, very like football."

Maurice Clarett, the former Ohio State Buckeyes running back who was drafted by the Denver Broncos before going to jail, then re-emerging in the United Football League with the Omaha Nighthawks, has spoken about his decision to attempt a switch to rugby in time for the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Speaking on CBS Sports Radio's The Doug Gottlieb Show, Clarett, 29, said: "I've never played rugby, I've always watched it and been intrigued by it, because I thought it resembled football in a lot of ways. I have ventured over to something that is very physical, very fast, very like football."

Clarett said he had not yet played a game of rugby, but added that it was "very humbling to learn another skill set. It's not about big guys with brutal force, it's about angles and positioning. It's a lot of fun."

Clarett is training at Tiger Rugby, an academy based in Columbus, Ohio that aims to produce Olympic-standard players. Announcing Clarett's decision last week, Tiger Rugby coach Paul Holmes said: "He's ridiculous. That's all I can say. 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."

On Wednesday, Clarett said: "My ultimate goal is to become an Olympian, absolutely. You take yourself as a student, like you would be in football. I started off at home watching YouTube videos. You watch guys who are in front of you, who are better than you, and you try to mimic them." Asked about his new training regime, he said: "Rugby's been beating me into the ground these last few days – the cardiovascular, the anaerobic system is completely different to football."

Asked if anyone had switched to rugby to become an Olympian before, Clarett said "I haven't the slightest clue." In fact, the path from American football to rugby sevens – which gained Olympic status in 2009 – is becoming rather well trodden. Carlin Isles, a former Ashland University running back and national top 40 sprinter, has made a considerable splash on the HSBC Sevens World Series circuit this season as "the fastest man in rugby", thanks in part to a YouTube video of his exploits which has attracted close to 3 million views.

Miles Craigwell, a former Brown linebacker and Miami Dolphins safety, has also played for the US Eagles sevens team, and the USA Rugby national coaches Mike Tolkin (15-a-side) and Alex Magleby (sevens) and chief executive Nigel Melville have made no secret of their aim to recruit athletes from more established US sports.

In 2003, Clarett scored the winning touchdown in the 2002 National Championship Game, against Miami. After failing in an attempt to enter the NFL draft early he eventually joined the Broncos, only to be released during preseason. He was jailed in 2006, over aggravated robbery and concealed weapons charges, and released in 2010.

Rugby sevens, which has been played at the Commonwealth Games since 1998 and has had its own World Cup since 1993, will be played in the Olympic Games for the first time in 2016. A short-handed version of rugby's usual 15-a-side format, it prioritises pace, fitness and spacial awareness. The US Eagles will compete in this weekend's Tokyo Sevens