INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 26 -- No player showed up at this NFL scouting combine with more to prove -- or more to explain -- to the league's coaches and front office executives than Adrian McPherson. Not Maurice Clarett, the former Ohio State tailback who challenged the league in court last year and lost. Not Mike Williams, the former University of Southern California wide receiver who tried to follow Clarett into last year's draft and was left without a place to play.
The path to this combine was even more arduous for McPherson, a 21-year-old quarterback who is just over two years removed from a scandal that included allegations of sports gambling and ended his promising career at Florida State. Two failed attempts to resume his college football career and one highly successful season in the Arena Football League later, he arrived in Indianapolis this week hoping to convince NFL clubs that his eye-catching ability is worth a draft choice in April.
Former Seminole Adrian McPherson received probation in 2003. "I was young and I made a mistake," he said.
(John Harrell -- AP)
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"This is my only chance," McPherson said. "I've been waiting on this opportunity for a long time, and it's here, so I just have to make the most of it."
Gambling is among the ultimate taboos for those involved in sports, and even accusations of it -- although denied by McPherson -- might scare away some teams. Most clubs are not far enough into their draft deliberations and their background checks on McPherson to know whether they would be willing to take a chance on him. But it takes only a glimpse at his strong arm and quick feet for any decision-maker for an NFL team to realize he'd better think long and hard before ruling him out.
"He's a talent," Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy said. "I think he's going to be an exciting player. Obviously you have to deal with some issues, but the talent is there."
While in high school in Bradenton, Fla., McPherson was Florida's player of the year in both football and basketball in the same year. He became Florida State's starting quarterback during the 2002 season as a sophomore. But after only four starts, he was dismissed from the team and arrested on suspicion of theft for allegedly cashing a stolen and forged check. The investigation led prosecutors to add charges, including one related to online gambling on college and professional sports. McPherson never was accused of throwing a game in which he played.
A June 2003 trial on misdemeanor gambling charges ended with a jury unable to reach a verdict, and the following month McPherson accepted a plea bargain and was sentenced to probation, restitution and community service.
"I made a mistake," McPherson said. "It's not who I am. I was young and made a mistake. I'm the first to step up and say I made a mistake. And I'm also the first to say that it's never going to happen again because I don't put myself in situations to allow trouble to come my way. I've matured from it. And for anybody that wants to know, I'm willing to stand up and answer any questions and admit to what I did, and I'm ready to move forward."
McPherson denies he gambled, saying: "Absolutely not. Unfortunately I was around some people who were. At the time, I didn't know they were. Like I told everybody, I'm embarrassed. I embarrassed myself, my family, Florida State. Just for my name to be associated with something like that is just an embarrassment to me."
McPherson said he spent two or three months afterward moping, then decided to try to put his life -- and his football career -- back together. He attempted to play at Murray State and Tennessee State but was denied athletic eligibility by each. He enrolled in a junior college in Florida and worked at a gym owned by his high school coach.
He played last year for the Arena League's Indiana Firebirds, whose coach -- before he was fired -- was former NFL quarterback Steve DeBerg. McPherson became the team's starter after one quarterback was hurt and another was benched, and he thrived. He was the league's fourth-leading passer, with 61 touchdowns and five interceptions, and its third-leading rusher.
"In my estimation," former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt said, "he has as much potential as anyone in this draft."
McPherson said he welcomes the prying into his past that the league and teams will do. Said Colts President Bill Polian: "I'm sure NFL Security will do a very thorough job looking into it, and then as a team, we'll go into great detail. And then you take the whole thing and fit it together. You look at the whole mosaic."
McPherson has added more than 30 pounds of muscle to his frame since his Florida State days without losing speed. He has been training with a fitness expert in Southern California since November, and he was eager to get to the combine.
"It's a chance," McPherson said. "I've been working hard the last four or five months. I want it just as bad as anybody else. This is definitely a chance for me to go in here and show everybody that I can play football. . . . I always felt that I'd get the opportunity. But the thing was, when I got the opportunity, I had to be ready."
NFL Notes: Wideout Muhsin Muhammad, who led the league in receiving yards and touchdown catches this past season, reached a contract agreement with the Chicago Bears, a day after being released by the Carolina Panthers. . . .
Tailback Jerome Bettis agreed to a reworked contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers to remain with the team next season, putting off retirement. . . .
Clarett's draft stock plummeted Saturday when he was timed, according to the unofficial clockings of the NFL Network, in 4.82 and 4.72 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
"I think everybody was disappointed in his time," Tennessee Titans GM Floyd Reese said. . . .
Auburn tailback Ronnie Brown boosted his lofty draft status when he ran his 40s in, unofficially, 4.4 and 4.32 seconds; Brown's best official time, according to an electronic clocking device, was 4.48 seconds.