Senior linebacker Kevin Claxton doesn't consider himself to be a success story.
Not yet, anyway.
Perhaps if Claxton becomes a starting outside linebacker for the University of Wisconsin football team in the fall as expected, then follows it up by earning his degree a year from this May.
Maybe then, Claxton will feel like he has rewarded the faith shown in him by UW coach Bret Bielema, rehabilitated his name and made the most of his chance.
A second chance.
As an 18-year-old senior at Boyd Anderson High School in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., Claxton was arrested with four other individuals for robbing a home in November 2007. He was charged with second-degree felony burglary and his dreams of playing college football appeared to be gone.
"Just the wrong place with the wrong people," is how Claxton described the moment.
"I'm just thankful I got another chance," he added. "I'm not a bad guy or anything."
Claxton committed to the Badgers the previous May, with other reported early offers from Miami (Fla.) and Auburn. Bielema was a second-year head coach at the time and after looking into the case, decided to stand by Claxton.
"Of course, he didn't have to do that," Claxton said. "Nobody had to recruit me. He stayed recruiting me and I thank him for that."
Bielema has enjoyed success recruiting the high school, going back to when he was linebackers coach at Iowa. One of the players he signed was linebacker Abdul Hodge, who became a standout for the Hawkeyes.
"Actually, the first three players I recruited out of the high school ended up in the NFL and really were pretty good kids in the systems I had been in previously," Bielema said.
Claxton's background did not come to light until a story in Sports Illustrated last month, following a six-month investigation which documented the criminal records of players on rosters of the magazine's 2010 preseason football Top 25.
When Bielema was asked about the risk of signing Claxton, he said, "When you knew the whole story, it wasn't as big a risk as maybe that (SI) article might have stated. We'd known Kevin for a long time. ... Felt good about where he was at, his family. I think it has worked out for the best for all of us."
According to the story, UW would not give Claxton a scholarship if he were convicted of a felony. His lawyer cited that in a pre-trial filing and the court allowed Claxton not to have a felony conviction on his record if he met certain conditions.
He spent weekends and spring break of his senior year in jail and had to receive court permission to attend his graduation.
"It's something that happened in the past," Claxton said. "I'm just trying to make the most out of it, that I got a second chance. I'm just trying to be positive about it and move on."
Comfortable at linebacker
Claxton began as a safety for the Badgers before moving to outside linebacker. He made his only career start at Michigan last season on Nov. 20. He also played extensively against Ohio State and Iowa.
During spring practices, Claxton has worked as the strongside linebacker with the No. 1 defense under new linebackers coach Dave Huxtable.
"New coach, (I'm) healthy, feeling good, I think it's my real crack," Claxton said of becoming a starter.
Even though he's a former defensive back, Claxton adapted to playing the run quicker than facing the pass at his new position. While he has man-to-man coverages skills, he wasn't used to dropping in zones.
"I was still learning the spot last year," he said. "I still had some of the safety in me, just drifting and stuff. Now, I know it and I'm a lot more comfortable in the zone drops. The run game came pretty quickly. I've always been a physical guy."
The SI article portrayed Claxton as a success story, since he has stayed out of trouble at UW and fulfilled the faith Bielema showed in him.
"From where he has come from and where he is today, he has shown he can play at this level," Bielema said. "I know he wants that starting position. It's not going to be complete for him just to have the football element. He wants to be one of the first ones in his family to graduate with that degree. It means a lot."
Claxton said his degree is in community leadership and nonprofit organizations. He hopes to work for a nonprofit when his football career is finished.
"I'm still working on being a success story," he said. "Once I graduate, see how this season goes, start providing for my family, then I'll be a success story."