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Terrelle Pryor's winding road leads to Monday night

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

The football possibility of Terrelle Pryor has always been so tempting: a new-school talent capable of making even the oldest of football souls dream of what he was capable.

He was the last high school recruit that then 81-year old Penn State coach Joe Paterno traveled off campus to meet for a home visit (in January 2008). He was the last draft pick made by then 81-year-old Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis (third round of the 2011 supplemental draft).

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Terrelle Pryor is set to make his fourth career start on Monday night. (AP)

Neither man is alive to see Pryor walk into Mile High Monday night. He will enter as a two-touchdown-plus underdog and a still developing quarterback with a shaky offense against the best-oiled machine in football.

For the first time in awhile, though, for the first time in what was expected to have occurred a long time ago, the eyes of football will be on him.

The likelihood the Raiders (1-1) shock the Denver Broncos (2-0) isn't particularly good. You never know, though. Far greater is the chance Pryor winds up impressing and reminding everyone why he was once the most coveted and intriguing high school athlete in America and one of college football's most explosive stars.

Pryor's career has been full of starts and stops, high points and forgettable stretches, immense praise and repeated "scandals."

On Monday – as it finally has been this season – it's about football and only football. And when it's about football, Pryor never doubts himself.

"How's the confidence?" Pryor said this past week. "I'm always a confident guy."

That much is undeniable. So, too, is his potential.

In 2008, Pryor was Rivals.com's No. 1 rated recruit coming out of Jeannette, Pa. – ahead of Julio Jones (4), A.J. Green (9), Andrew Luck (68) and Robert Griffin III (no national ranking).

He was also a top-50 hoops recruit (at one point he committed to Pitt in that sport). He was a 6-foot-5 blur of speed, strength, shiftiness and creativity – one of the best pure athletes Pennsylvania ever produced.

He committed to Ohio State weeks after national signing day, which was just the start of critics saying he drew too much attention to himself. Almost immediately he delivered a level of flash not often seen under Jim Tressel's Buckeyes. While there was always a bit of an uneasy truce – he publicly supported Michael Vick when few dared; he had a habit of getting traffic tickets in "loaner" cars – he also won a share of three Big Ten titles and beat Michigan three times.

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Oakland Raiders fans hold a sign for quarterback Terrelle Pryor. (USAT Sports)

His career ended early when he was suspended for five games for trading memorabilia in violation of NCAA rules. Rather than stick around after Tressel was fired, he entered the supplemental draft. Every team in the league passed on him, twice. Then Oakland finally bit.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wound up making him sit the five games the NCAA doled out anyway, a bizarre sentence that the league said was for undermining the "integrity of the eligibility rules for the NFL draft."

Since then, little has been heard from Pryor. He appeared in one game in 2011, but didn't attempt a pass or a rush. He threw just 30 passes last year across three games. He wasn't expected to win the starting job this summer, even on what looked like a lousy club. There was a sense he might just fade into the sunset.

Now here he is, the firm starter and a guy who is, at the very least, playing pretty well. He's completed 64.2 percent of his passes. He's run for 162 yards. He single-handedly scrambled the Raiders to the brink of an upset at Indianapolis in the opener. He's still dynamic, still so fun to watch. It's a start.

"I'm going to get better at my craft and get better at things in terms of footwork and accuracy and stuff like that," Pryor said. "It's an ongoing process and I want to get better."

The 24-year-old may never be what some thought he could be, but he's finally getting the chance to return to national relevance – finally getting attention for what he does on the field, not off it.

Now the spotlight is back to being a football player, and there aren't many brighter than Monday Night, with Peyton Manning across the way.

[Listen: Why Broncos want decisive win over Oakland]

"I just dreamed of being in the NFL and being a starting NFL quarterback, and whatever the stage brought, it brought," Pryor said. "I know right now I don't want to get too excited about a stage or anything like that because at the end of the day, I still have to drop back and I have to help this team win.

"I don't want to get too excited. I know it's a big task against one of the greatest quarterbacks; he's a Hall of Famer. I just have to go handle the business of my 1/11th of the offense and get us in good positions."

The Broncos are heavy favorites. Oakland is a young group trying to gain momentum. Terrelle Pryor really has little to lose, certainly not now that his big chance has, at last, been found.

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