TAMPA — U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday put a lot of faith in former NFL running back Troy Hambrick on Tuesday.
"I know you are the type of person who will regain your rightful place with your family, your friends and community," Merryday said.
But before Hambrick can do that, the judge told him, he must spend the next five years in federal prison.
That was the sentence handed down to the 31-year-old Hambrick for distributing crack cocaine in his hometown of Lacoochee.
"I have confidence you can regain your place," the judge told him. "But nonetheless you committed an offense that is serious."
Once Troy Hambrick was known only for football. He was one half of a famous brotherly duo who helped lead the Pasco High School Pirates to the 2002 Class 3A state championship. Years later, he and older brother Darren Hambrick were reunited with the Dallas Cowboys.
But now Troy Hambrick, a married father, will also be known as a convicted drug dealer and federal prisoner.
"At one time, he stood on the highest mountain," defense attorney Terry Christian said after court. "Now he went down to the lowest valleys.
"The judge, and I, and Mr. Hambrick's family would like to see Troy bring himself back."
The NFL career of Troy Hambrick, also known as Troy Grant, ended in 2005 when he injured his foot. He was cut by the Arizona Cardinals, and later that year was arrested for allegedly choking his wife. The charges were dropped.
His dreams of a football comeback ended last year. He signed with the Arena Football League, but was cut within days of his Dec. 6 federal indictment.
"I was ready to do something good and positive with my life," Hambrick told the judge.
Instead, federal authorities say he sold 27.5 grams of crack cocaine to an informer for $800 on Sept. 7, 2007, near his Lacoochee home.
Hambrick agreed to plead guilty on Feb. 7 to one count of knowingly and intentionally distributing 50 grams or more of crack cocaine.
He had faced more charges for selling another 172 grams of the drug for $4,800 in two more 2007 deals made in Dade City. But the U.S. Attorney's Office dropped those charges Tuesday as part of his plea agreement.
Prosecutors told the court that Hambrick could reduce his sentence by identifying the source of his drugs. Christian said his client wanted to cooperate, but publicity surrounding the case resulted in threats being made against Hambrick.
All Hambrick could do Tuesday at the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse was ask for leniency. He told the judge his family and an ill relative need him.
The judge offered some leniency, sparing Hambrick from a guideline sentence of six to seven years. He also sentenced Hambrick to four years of federal probation, substance abuse counseling and ordered Hambrick placed in a prison close to his family.
His mother, Marvis Hambrick, clasped hands with his father, Julius Grant, at that news. They left court without comment. Elder brother Darren Hambrick did not attend the sentencing.
Under federal rules, Troy Hambrick could serve just four years of his sentence. He was taken into custody after Tuesday's hearing.
"Judges want to see people accept responsibility and try and move on," Christian said. "Troy knew he was a wrong. Now he wants to put it behind him and make amends."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6236.