'Gades welcome troubled twosome

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

Thirty-one years after Burt Reynolds starred in the original production, a remake of The Longest Yard hits Ottawa movie theatres tomorrow.

What's starting to look like a sequel to the sequel begins Saturday in Kemptville.

As Renegades training camp opens this weekend, the defensive line, at least, now has its own Adam Sandler and Chris Rock -- or in this case, real-life guys who have been clotheslined by the long arm of the law.

In February, Ottawa coach and GM Joe Paopao signed Ray Jacobs, a talented end who nine months earlier had been arrested near a B.C. crack house after cops allegedly found cocaine in his car and prostitutes in his company. A former all-star, Jacobs was cleared of the charges a month later, but the Lions cut him anyway.

While it's only been a year since Jacobs was on a football field, the newest addition to the Ottawa lineup hasn't played since 2001. Officially signed yesterday is former Minnesota Vikings first-round pick Dimitrius Underwood, a 6-foot-6, 295-lb. tackle/end who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Now said to be regularly taking his Prolixin and "incident-free" for 13 months, Underwood, 28, found himself in a whole mess of trouble while visiting a state of manic depression.

ATTEMPTED SUICIDE

On rehab from a shoulder injury in 1999 -- the same year the Vikings made him the 29th player selected in the draft -- Underwood was arrested for nonpayment of child support for his twins. Hours after his release from jail, he was discovered on a street bleeding from self-inflicted knife wounds to his throat. Reportedly, he tried to kill himself because he believed the world was going to end with the beginning of the new millennium.

Underwood also attempted suicide in 2001 when -- after kicking a car and asking passing motorists for a gun -- he reportedly ran into traffic on a Florida highway twice, telling police he "wanted to go to Jesus."

He was arrested twice in November 2002, once on charges of robbing a paraplegic in a wheelchair and again for punching a cop. Another time, police had to pepper spray Underwood and haul him into custody when he refused to get out of a stalled car that was blocking traffic on the interstate.

A slap of probation and three stays in a psychiatric facility later, the former Michigan State star has been working out with a speed and conditioning trainer and has made what's been called "remarkable progress."

"We are happy to announce that we are giving an opportunity to a young man who possesses a special talent," Paopao said of Underwood, who counts among his friends and supporters Renegades receiver Bashir Yamini. "Just like the 70-plus players coming to training camp, it is about opportunity and making the most of it.

"We are aware of his condition, and it is a condition in our society. From the reports we received and conversations with coaches, trainers and doctors, we expect (him), like the rest of our players, to arrive, play and conduct himself as a professional."

The Renegades also signed three other imports yesterday, and two of them were offensive linemen. Seven-year NFL veteran Morris Unutoa has been a guard, tackle and long snapper during a career that has included stops with the Eagles, Giants, Buccaneers and Bills. At 34, Unutoa is at the far end of the experience scale from 22-year-old tackle Steve Burch, who is coming to the Renegades straight from an award-winning career at Idaho State.

Also signed by Ottawa was Larry "Sparky" Hamilton, a 6-foot-4, 215-lb. receiver who has most recently been with the Green Bay Packers and, like Renegades QB Kerry Joseph, NFL Europe's Rhein Fire.

HE'S NO DEXTER

When two-a-days begin Sunday, however, all eyes will frequently shift to Underwood. Inevitably, he will be linked to Dexter Manley, the troubled NFL sack specialist the Gliebermans brought to Ottawa the last time they were here. Among the differences -- the Gliebermans had nothing to do with the Underwood signing and, while Dexter was on the downside of his career, Dimitrius' has yet to really begin. After one practice with the Vikings, he quit the team, announced his plans to join the ministry, and returned his $1.75-million US signing bonus. A month after his release from the Vikings, he signed with the Dolphins. Most recently, he was with the Cowboys, who had him on their "unable to perform" list until 2003.

Meanwhile, he is merely the latest to get another chance in Ottawa. That list not only includes Jacobs, but also Paopao and, soon to be made official, the Gliebermans.

If Underwood slips again, there is no person better qualified to spot and handle the situation than the fatherly Paopao, who will waste no time in shipping him home. If Underwood can stay loyal to his medication, the Renegades will have found a buried treasure. In 1999, the Vikings chose Daunte Culpepper with their first pick (11th overall) rather than answer a glaring need to improve their pass rush by taking Javon "The Freak" Kearse, who wound up going 16th. Obviously, they felt Underwood would be almost as good, if not better.

Now, Ottawa has the opportunity to see if there was anything to that hunch.


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