From collegiate star to NFL bust to Olympian. That's how Maurice Clarett's strange career path could read if the 29-year-old can grasp and master his new sport, rugby.

Rugby Mag is reporting that the former Ohio State standout has joined the the Tiger Rugby Olympic Development Program in Columbus, Ohio. And he's got his sights set on Brazil, where rugby will be reintroduced into the Olympics.

"He's committed to try to make Rio 2016,” Tiger Rugby director Paul Holmes told Rugby Mag. "That's Maurice's plan."

The highs and lows of Clarett's career have been well documented. The Youngstown, Ohio, native had an extremely successful freshman season at Ohio State, rushing for 1,237 yards and scoring 18 touchdowns. He was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and helped lead the Buckeyes to a national championship.

Several poor decisions on Clarett's part led the school to suspend him for the 2003 athletic year, and shortly after hearing the news the rising sophomore dropped out of school. Clarett tried to enter the 2004 NFL Draft but was denied, so he waited a year and submitted his name again in 2005. He was taken by the Denver Broncos in the third round of the 2005 draft, but he was released before ever playing a down.

Clarett was arrested twice in 2006 and subsequently spent several years in jail. In 2010 he signed on with the UFL's Omaha Nighthawks, where he played his first meaningful games since his freshman year at Ohio State.

Despite the fact that Clarett has spent so much time away from competitive athletics, Holmes says he's still in excellent shape.

"He's ridiculous. That's all I can say," Holmes said. "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."

Holmes said he and his staff checked around to make sure Clarett was mature enough to train with Tiger Rugby. And they believe he deserves a chance.

“I think the big thing with Maurice is the maturity that’s beyond a lot of other guys," Holmes said, "just because of the life experience he’s gone through, and I think he’s learned to look at the bigger picture in life."

Clarett is not the first college star to turn to rugby in recent years. Former Missouri standout Tommy Saunders, LSU speedseter Bennie Brazell and Brown linebacker Miles Craigwell all made the switch, with varying degrees of success.

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It turns out Olympians and other elite athletes aren't only physically superior to the rest of us, they may also have a mental superiority as well.

New research, based on study of Brazilian volleyball players, suggests that they receive and process information faster than their nonathletic counterparts. Interestingly, the improvement was especially noticeable in female athletes, who performed similarly on cognitive tests to male athletes. Nonathletic females, however, tended to perform tasks slower than nonathletic males.

"We found that athletes were generally able to inhibit behavior, to stop quickly when they had to, which is very important in sport and in daily life," said University of Illinois psychology professor Arthur Kramer. "They were also able to activate, to pick up information from a glance and to switch between tasks more quickly than nonathletes. I would say these were modest differences, but they were interesting differences nonetheless."

Kramer and his team studied 87 top ranked Brazilian volleyball players, some of whom medaled in the 2008 or 2012 Olympics, as well as 67 nonathletic contemporaries. The researchers found that the athletes held a decided advantage in a multitude of areas. The volleyball players were faster at memory tests, quicker to notice objects in their peripheral vision and better at accomplishing tasks while ignoring irrelevant or misleading information.

The study, which was published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology and is also available online, seems to support previous evidence which shows that years spent on a physical task can improve cognition.

"Perhaps people gravitate to these sports because they're good at both," Kramer said. "Or perhaps it’s the training that enhances their cognitive abilities as well as their physical ones. My intuition is that it’s a little bit of both."

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Track star Lolo Jones suffered disappointments at the past two Olympics. In Beijing, she was in position to win gold in the 100 meter hurdles but tripped on the second-to-last hurdle. In London, she finished fourth.

Desperate -- her words, not ours -- to win an Olympic medal, Jones has shifted her focus to the 2014 Olympics as a bobsledder.

The early results are encouraging. She helped the U.S. national team win an event in Switzerland in late January.

HBO's "Real Sports" has an in-depth feature on Jones and her quest for Olympic hardware in its latest edition that premieres 10 p.m. ET/PT Tuesday. Here is a snippet:

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In light of the growing concern regarding head trauma in athletics, experts are examining all aspects of sports to ensure the safety of players.

And as it turns out, even a small and seemingly inconsequential action -- like a header in soccer -- can have an effect on a player's cognitive function.

Anne Sereno, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas Health Science Center, recently conducted a study on soccer players to determine whether and how much they were impacted by headers. And the answer might surprise you.

Sereno and her team selected a group of 12 female soccer players between the ages of 15 and 18. The study was observational, so the researchers did not control how many headers the high schoolers logged.

After practices, Sereno administered a simple iPad test meant to measure cognitive function. She and her team found that even a relatively small number of headers -- on average between two and 20, with results skewed toward two -- delayed reaction time by 30 to 50 milliseconds.

"These findings suggest that even subconcussive blows in soccer can result in cognitive function changes that are consistent with mild traumatic brain injury of the frontal lobes," the researchers wrote.

While this study is certainly eye-opening, the research should be expanded before conclusions are drawn. Are these results unique to high schoolers, some of whom are still growing? What are the long term effects of headers?

If you think you've read and heard a lot about concussions recently, buckle up. This is just the beginning.

(H/T to Wired)

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Alex Stepheson had just finished eating in one of USC's dining halls when he heard a voice shout, "Hey! Just the man I was looking for!"

Stepheson turned around to see Pete Carroll, charisma wrapped in a gold and cardinal hoodie, waving at him from a few yards away.

"Yeah, you," Carroll said. "Come over here, big guy!"

A 6-10 basketball standout recently transferred from North Carolina, Stepheson walked over to Carroll's table, unsure of what to expect.

"You have to sit out this year," Carroll said. "You ever think about playing football?"

Stepheson, two weeks into his tenure at Southern Cal, was totally caught off guard. A post-practice lunch had turned into a Pete Carroll recruiting pitch. He was living the dream of every USC frat star who pumped iron in preparation for Sigma Chi's beach party, flexed their Creatine-filled muscles in the mirror and thought to themselves, "I could totally be an asset on special teams."

For Stepheson, this was reality, and it also wasn't the first time he'd been approached by a famous football coach. His freshman year at UNC involved a similar encounter when Butch Davis cornered Alex and gave the spiel, encouraging him to check out the gridiron while making sure word never got back to Roy Williams that Butch was trying to poach one of his guys.

Both times, Stepheson, outgoing and gregarious, chatted and told Carroll and Davis that he'd consider their offers, yet both times he came to the same conclusion: He was a basketball player.

And it wasn't like he was just any basketball player. As a 6-9 freshman at Harvard Westlake High School in North Hollywood, Stepheson was one of the country's top recruit's seconds after hitting puberty.

After high school, he joined Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Brandan Wright, Deon Thompson and Will Graves at North Carolina in what ESPN ranked the second best recruiting class of the past 20 years (Michigan's Fab Five was No. 1). The world had been molding him to play basketball since it became clear he'd be one of its tallest inhabitants. Every second he spent away from the court was a second wasted, time he could have spent honing his craft.

But after going undrafted and tearing his ACL last season in Greece, Stepheson finds himself on the outside looking in, hoping for a shot at an NBA roster this offseason. There are, after all, only 360 full-time jobs in the profession. Myriad talents fall through the cracks and end up playing in Europe, the D-League or hogging the ball at your local LA Fitness.

And though Stepheson has spent the past nine months recovering from ACL surgery and fine-tuning his footwork, ball handling, and shooting, previous weaknesses in his game, he'll have to have a dominant summer to crack an NBA roster.

"When I think back," Stepheson said, referring to Carroll's practice invitation. "I always wonder, 'What if I went?'"

***

You might have read about the Seahawks signing Darren Fells, former international basketball player, to a three-year contract earlier this week. Darren, brother of St. Louis Rams tight end Daniel Fells, is a beast at 6-7 and 280 pounds. Clearly Carroll and Schneider are obsessed with physical specimens, but are they on the cusp of the next big trend in the NFL?

And Stepheson isn't just 6-10 -- he's 6-10 and 290 pounds of pure muscle. He has a 37-inch vertical leap and hands the size of Ken Griffey Jr.'s glove. He's a "Dwight Howardesque" athlete. He's not only a giant, but he's a giant that God built solidly and proportionally. The anti-Greg Oden, if you will.

So my question is this: Would Stepheson or player that fits his profile (6-9 to 7-0, 35-inch-plus vertical leap, huge hands, excellent athlete) be unstoppable as a receiver in the red zone? Would Richard Sherman or Darrelle Revis stand a chance defending Stepheson in a jump ball from the 5-yard line? Would they stand a chance if they double-teamed him?

With the success of former college basketball players Jimmy Graham and Antonio Gates, two guys who didn't play a down of football in their underclassman careers (Graham played sparingly in a fifth season at Miami once his basketball eligibility had expired) why don't more teams actively recruit basketball players to catch touchdown passes?

Clippers forward Matt Barnes, a standout wide receiver at Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks, Calif., said that he and Blake Griffin were recently chatting at practice about a hypothetical that many sports fans have imagined: What could Blake Griffin do as an NFL wide-out?

Barnes is a modest guy and made sure to emphasize that it'd be incredibly difficult for a former NBA big to be an effective route-runner or deal with the physicality of the position (I agree to an extent but still argue that Dwight Howardesques could be effective in third-and-short "jump-ball" situations anywhere on the field, even if only as a decoy). But given the scenario of Barnes and Griffin lining up as receivers in the red zone, Barnes quickly replied, "In the red zone -- it'd be over."

So here's a new question: Would a poor man's Blake Griffin, say, for example, his older brother Taylor Griffin, be worth a roster spot if he only saw the field as a red-zone target? If he subbed in for a team's No. 2 receiver inside the 20-yard line to open up defenses and out-jump helpless defenders who are 6-0 or 6-2?

I hope you're emphatically nodding at this point.

Because while it doesn't make sense for Dwight Howard or Blake Griffin to forfeit millions of dollars playing the sport they love, it would make sense for the hundreds of Taylor Griffin's playing in the D-League, Europe, or elsewhere, to consider the NFL. Quite simply, and I'm speaking to agents here, it might be a more lucrative career path.

***

Precision passers like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are effective in the red zone because they can throw within unbelievably small windows to guys like Brandon Stokley, Deion Branch and Donald Driver, incredible possession receivers who run flawless routes and have great hands to boot. Even Mark "Throw The Ball In The General Vicinity And Hope My Teammate Catches It" Sanchez could connect for touchdowns with Stepheson.

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With time winding down in this year's NFC divisional playoff game between Atlanta and Seattle, the Falcons lined up for a 49-yard field goal to take the lead.

Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant appeared to miss the kick wide right. But as it turned out, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll had called a timeout in an attempt to "ice" Bryant. Carroll wanted to give Bryant some time to ponder the kick in the hopes that Bryant would over-think the boot and miss it.

But Bryant returned after the timeout and nailed the field goal, sending the Falcons to the NFC championship game and the Seahawks back to Seattle wondering what could have been.

In the wake of the game, Carroll's call was questioned by many.

And while some evidence suggests that icing the kicker does work in certain situations, a new study presented at the recent Sloan Conference at MIT argues that this practice has no discernable influence on field goals.

The study, completed by MIT graduate students, reviewed all 11,896 field-goal attempts in the NFL between 2000 and 2011. The authors concluded that psychological factors, like calling a timeout before the field goal attempt or whether the kicker is at home or away, do not effect the kicker.

Factors that do appear to effect a kicker's performance include the environment (kickers perform better at high altitude) and the weather (kickers are more likely to connect on field goals in warmer circumstances).

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