DADE CITY — Ex-NFL running back Troy Hambrick attempted a comeback with the Arena Football League last year.
Then a federal grand jury indicted him on drug charges. The arena league cut Hambrick within days.
The former Pasco High School great's football days seem long gone now: He agreed last month to plead guilty to one of those drug charges.
Hambrick, 31, could get 10 years to life in a federal prison. But he's really hoping for the chance to persuade a judge to sentence him to much less time.
"Troy Hambrick entered a plea of guilty. He accepted responsibility for his conduct," said his court-appointed attorney, Terry Christian.
Hambrick, also known as Troy Grant, signed the plea agreement with prosecutors Feb. 22. He pleaded guilty to one felony count of knowingly and intentionally distributing 50 or more grams of crack cocaine.
In 1992, Troy and older brother Darren Hambrick helped the Pasco High Pirates bring the Class 3A state football championship to Dade City.
But according to his plea agreement, Lacoochee native Troy Hambrick admitted to selling 78 grams of crack cocaine in Dade City last year. The sale was made at a gas station one night in September 2007, according to federal records.
Hambrick's sentencing is tentatively scheduled for May 11. He also faces up to five years federal probation.
But because he has just one prior arrest in Florida, Hambrick is eligible to receive a lesser sentence, possibly only three to five years in federal prison.
It's all up to U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday. A federal magistrate has recommended the judge accept the plea agreement. If he does, Hambrick and his lawyer will get to make their case in federal court for less prison time.
In exchange for the guilty plea, the U.S. Attorney's Office dropped two other federal charges Hambrick faced for selling lesser amounts of cocaine. But Hambrick had to forfeit his Lincoln Navigator, which federal authorities say he had with him when he sold the 78 grams of crack cocaine.
The season after Pasco High won the county's first and only state football title, Hambrick led the state in scoring with 222 points, earning St. Petersburg Times Suncoast Player of the Year honors.
He went undrafted out of college but signed with the Dallas Cowboys. His NFL career ended in 2004 after 2,179 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
He has a wife and children. It's been four years since he played organized football. But in Hambrick's mind, his lawyer said, "He's a professional football player."
Hambrick is out on $100,000 bail. In January, he asked a federal magistrate to let him leave the area so he could go to North Carolina to play for the American Indoor Football Association.
His request was denied, but can prison time convince Hambrick's that he's no longer a football player?
"Troy hopes to continue playing football someday," his lawyer said. "It's all up to the judge how much time Troy is going to get."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.