Terrelle Pryor: He's gone

Staff Writer
The Columbus Dispatch

When Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel signed quarterback Terrelle Pryor, the nation's No. 1 high-school prospect in 2008, the union was expected to take the Buckeyes to great heights.

Instead, each has stepped away from college football in the past eight days, and each did so under the pressure of NCAA investigations.

"In the best interest of my teammates, I have made the decision to forgo my senior year of football at The Ohio State University," Pryor said in a statement read by his attorney Larry James yesterday afternoon.

Pryor, a native of Jeannette, Pa., won 31 of 35 games as Ohio State's starting quarterback, led OSU to three victories over rival Michigan, and was named MVP of the Buckeyes' past two bowl wins. He offered no other comment yesterday.

But James indicated that Pryor, 21, was given little choice but to end his college career. Pryor and four teammates already had been suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for violating NCAA rules by receiving improper benefits from Ed Rife, the owner of a Columbus tattoo parlor.

Then, in recent weeks, the school and the NCAA opened another investigation of Pryor on the premise that he was receiving other improper benefits. Part of the focus was his access to loaner cars from local auto dealers, but sources said he also was being asked other questions on matters that could have affected his eligibility.

ESPN reported last night that an anonymous source said Pryor had received $20,000 to $40,000 over the past couple of years from Columbus businessman Dennis Talbott for signing memorabilia that was then sold online.

Talbott, who has made no secret of being a friend of Pryor, said this morning that the report was absurd and that "I have never given one dollar, one dollar, to Terrelle Pryor."

James said this morning such an allegation never came up in conversations with the NCAA "and it seems odd that it comes out now.

"I tell my partners all the time, 'Don't fight ghosts.' This is a ghost," he said, lending the report no credibility.

What became most apparent in the past week, James said, was that Pryor had become a lightning rod for some OSU fans and critics because of NCAA investigations and their contribution to the unceremonious ouster of Tressel, who is among the most-beloved figures in Ohio State football history.

"Even if he had won (his personal investigation), he couldn't win," James said of Pryor. So Pryor opted to pull the plug on his college career yesterday.

"I just think it was a journey. He had reached a fork in the road, and today happened to be that day that the decision was made," James said. "Nothing more than that."

Asked whether Pryor, effectively no longer a college football player, will continue to cooperate with the NCAA in its investigation, James said, "I think he is done with those folks."

The timing of the announcement was unexpected, but the news that Pryor's career at OSU is finished was not a huge surprise to many of the team's insiders and followers.

"On the field, I think he was an incredible college-football player but off the field and in the locker room, from what I hear, I don't know if he was the most-engaging leader we ever had," said Chris Spielman, a former Ohio State linebacker and current ESPN analyst. "There could be a chance - and you'd have to take a survey of the players on this - that a lot of the guys are glad to see him gone."

Team members were off-limits to the media last night, and interim head coach Luke Fickell released only a statement. But its terse nature indicated a corner being turned as the team deals with ongoing NCAA scrutiny.

"I was notified this evening that Terrelle has decided to pursue a professional career," Fickell said, referring to Pryor's expected application for the NFL supplemental draft. "I wish him the best in his pursuits."

Whether Pryor would be eligible for the supplemental draft was unclear last night. The NFL typically requires compelling evidence that a player's situation has changed - college ineligibility, for instance - before allowing a player a chance to enter the league. Walking away from a college career might not be enough.

It also remains to be seen whether Pryor will continue to submit to the NCAA investigation of him and the football program. He isn't compelled to after forgoing his remaining eligibility.

As for Tressel and Pryor, they are inextricably linked.

Their respective downfalls began April 2, 2010, when local attorney and former OSU football player Christopher Cicero informed Tressel by email that several of his players, including Pryor, were dealing with Rife and appeared to be receiving improper benefits, such as free or discounted tattoos or cash, for some of their awarded memorabilia or signed jerseys and the like.

Tressel, however, failed to forward the information to the OSU compliance office. After a U.S. attorney's letter to OSU in December 2010 revealed the allegations, prompting the NCAA to suspend Pryor and four teammates for the first five games of the 2011 season, Tressel kept quiet. It wasn't until the emails were found by the school in January - the substance of a major NCAA violation for withholding such information - that Tressel began the long slide toward his forced resignation.

The way that many Ohio State fans see it, had Pryor and his teammates not frequented the tattoo parlor, there would have been no reason for Tressel to have received such emails.

Ray Reitz, Pryor's former high-school coach in Jeannette, watched it all unravel.

He had been there when critics first cast a skeptical eye toward Pryor after he put off his college decision for six weeks, finally picking OSU over Michigan, Penn State and Oregon.

Then Reitz watched from afar as Pryor dealt with the pressure of being Ohio State's quarterback the past three seasons, and then got wrapped up in off-field situations that brought NCAA violations and led to the downfall of Tressel.

"I feel bad for coach Tressel, I really do," Reitz said. "I hate to see a guy who meant so much to college football go out like that.

"As for Terrelle, I wish him all the best. This decision was probably the best for him at this point, considering the circumstances, and it's commendable. You know, if the NCAA had suspended him and those other guys for the bowl game, this probably never would have gotten to this point.

"But it is what it is, and you move on."