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Former Florida State star Adrian McPherson trying to reclaim glory in NFL

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Adrian McPherson had the great arm, the terrific speed, the uncanny mobility. He won Florida's top honors as a high school senior and started for a national title contender at Florida State.

Then he gambled his college career _ and lost.

McPherson is trying to change his life again, this time at the NFL combine, which opened Thursday in Indianapolis. He hopes to convince scouts he's still a top quarterback, minus the baggage.

``I don't feel I have to prove anything,'' he said. ``I just have to be me. A lot of people say, 'He can play,' but a lot of people don't know the situation I was in.''

McPherson pleaded no contest in July 2003 to gambling and stolen check charges and was sentenced to community service, 90 days on a county work detail and probation. But in his mind, his 2002 dismissal from the Seminoles by coach Bobby Bowden was a more severe punishment than any the court system could inflict.

He spent 15 months away from football, rebuilding his life and praying someone would give him a break. He developed a friendship with former NFL quarterback Steve DeBerg, who was coaching the Arena Football League's Indiana Firebirds, and signed with the team, becoming one of the league's top quarterbacks in 2004.

NFL scouts don't question his talent. They're more focused on his character.

``I've already seen what I need to see physically. The workout will be the icing on the cake,'' Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian said. ``It's the background check and the discussions with coach Bowden that will be the determining factor.''

McPherson insists he's learned a tough lesson. If the scouts agree, McPherson could be one of the biggest steals in April's draft.

He's grown into that gifted 6-foot-3 body, going from the lanky 185 pounds that made some scouts question his durability into a 220-pound muscle man capable of almost anything.

With the Firebirds last season, he completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,297 yards and 61 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He also rushed for 259 yards _ and stayed out of trouble.

McPherson has spent the past four months working with a personal trainer, a dietitian and some of the best tutors in the business to prepare for this weekend's audition.

He already has convinced agent Leigh Steinberg that he's a future NFL star.

Steinberg, who has represented top quarterbacks including Troy Aikman and Steve Young, believes McPherson might be the most talented quarterback he's had. McPherson's 40-yard dash times and vertical jump measurements could put him in a class with the top wide receivers, marks quarterbacks rarely achieve, Steinberg said.

``He's as physically gifted an athlete as I've been around,'' Steinberg said. ``His physical abilities are off the chart. He throws the ball as beautifully as any quarterback that has come along in years.''

But his background remains the question mark for many scouts who saw him at the Senior Bowl and will see him again this weekend.

``That came up with every team I talked to and that's to be expected,'' McPherson said. ``It's something I'm open and willing to talk about.''

McPherson, who was Florida's Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball his senior year, wants to show them he has changed. He has re-enrolled at Florida State, where he hopes to earn the degree he promised his parents. He apologized to the Seminole coaches. He's formed a new circle of friends.

How teams respond to those changes could dictate where _ or if _ he goes in April's draft.

Physically, Steinberg believes McPherson is a first-round talent and could follow other Arena ball stars who made it big in the NFL: former MVP Kurt Warner and Tommy Maddox of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

McPherson doesn't like the comparison.

``What's different is that I played Arena ball to reveal my name,'' he said. ``I had to let people see what I could do.''

McPherson believes the shorter field forced him to develop a better throwing motion, a quicker release and a faster ability to make decisions.

He's ready to demonstrate his progress and answer his critics _ on or off the field.

``I'm doing everything I can,'' he said. ``I want to lay everything out, and whoever wants to be the judge can be the judge. But this is something I've been dreaming about my whole life.''
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