Terrelle Pryor was supposed to be Ohio State's savior.
He was the blue chip recruit that was going to propel the Buckeyes to national championship status. He was a program changer; a potential career-changer for people such as Jim Tressell, Gene Smith and E. Gordon Gee who were going to ride Pryor's Heisman-winning coattails to become one of the greatest athletic departments in history.
It was a nice thought when Pryor chose the Buckeyes over the likes of Michigan and Penn State. But in reality, the only place Pryor ended up taking the Ohio State athletic department was down the drain with his collegiate career.
Pryor announced through his lawyer Tuesday that he was not returning to school. A couple hours later, a former friend dropped a bombshell on the Ohio State athletic department by claiming Pryor had made upwards of $40,000 by signing autographs and memorabilia for a Columbus businessman and freelance photographer named Dennis Talbott.
The former friend asked not to be shown on camera or identified by name, but he told ESPN's "Outside The Lines" that Pryor was making money hand over fist for the same thing that got him suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season. Only this wasn't just selling a couple Ohio State trinkets for tattoos, this was cold hard cash for a few minutes of his time.
The signings for cash, which would be a violation of NCAA rules, occurred a minimum of 35 to 40 times, netting Pryor anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 that year, the former friend says. The source spoke to ESPN under the condition that his face not be aired on TV and that his name not be published.
He said Pryor was paid $500 to $1,000 each time he signed mini football helmets and other gear for a Columbus businessman and freelance photographer, Dennis Talbott. Talbott twice denied to ESPN that he ever paid Pryor or any other active Buckeye athlete to sign memorabilia. He said last week he has only worked with former players to set up signings. On Tuesday evening, he declined to comment whether he had ever operated a sports memorabilia business and said he was not an Ohio State booster.
Pryor's former friend also told "Outside the Lines" that the player often received preferential treatment in the Columbus community, receiving thousands of dollars in free food at local restaurants and convenience stores, free drinks at bars and free tattoos. In addition, he said the quarterback had access to free loaner cars from local dealerships. The source said he spent nearly every day with Pryor before their relationship soured when Pryor began taking on a more "arrogant" attitude after his 2009-10 season.
He said Pryor would get the merchandise to sign from Talbott, who would "bring it to TP, and he would sign it and he would bring him cash. Dennis would give him cash." He said he witnessed the transactions occur about three to four times a week at Pryor's apartment.
Of course, since it's an unnamed source everything has to be taken at his word, but it's interesting that the story surfaced right after Pryor decided to leave school.
The past two weeks have been the slow unraveling of Pryor's dirty deeds, including his relationships with area car dealerships. To say that a bombshell like this was unexpected would be a lie. As the layers of Pryor's improprieties began to shed, I think we all knew that there could be something unsavory waiting underneath.
The ESPN story marked a seedy end to a career that never really reached its potential, and what's worse is that Ohio State is left holding the bag. While it's been speculated that the university might need to clean house after the Tressel firing, this almost certainly seals that.
What's most unfair (and USC knows this feeling) is that while Pryor continues his career in the NFL or the Canadian league, Ohio State and its future recruiting classes will bear all the weight of his actions. Pryor will go on to make millions somewhere while the university struggles to replace the pieces of what will be an NCAA penalty-ravaged football program. And it won't be quick. Depending on the punishment, Ohio State could be a shell of itself for a decade. If there's any justice, perhaps the NFL will make an example of Pryor, pass on him, and force him to pay for his mistakes in Canadian or Arena football purgatory. But that seems unlikely with an athlete like Pryor on the board. The NFL is about making money and winning championships, consciences go out the window.
So, now it's a waiting game. Waiting for the university to act, waiting for the NCAA to act and perhaps waiting for someone to explain what the heck just happened. Big Ten titles, BCS bowls, accolades have been a staple at Ohio State. Now all of those things are in jeopardy and those responsible are scattering like cockroaches when the light switch is flipped.
The only question left for Ohio State is, where does it go from here?