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Ex-FSU star, others battle to clean up their image

Before Dec. 29, Florida State linebacker A.J. Nicholson firmly believed he was worthy of being a first-round pick in the NFL draft.

He still believes that. But considering his potential legal trouble, he will need an impressive performance on and off the field during the NFL scouting combine to realize that.

Nicholson, 22, is the subject of an open investigation by Hollywood, Fla. police. Authorities are considering charges after a 19-year-old woman told investigators she was sexually assaulted at the Seminoles' team hotel in the early morning hours of Dec. 29, just days before the Orange Bowl.

Nicholson, who was sent home by school officials for violating team rules, broke his silence Sunday.

"I made a mistake by letting a female in after curfew, and that's the reason why I got suspended from the Orange Bowl," he said. "I asked the lady to get out, and she got mad. I'm very remorseful, very sorry. I let my teammates down, let myself down, let my family down, my coaches. I learned a valuable lesson through all this."

Nicholson is one of several players at the combine trying to convince NFL teams their brushes with the law won't prevent them from contributing as a pro. Others include Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick and Florida defensive back Dee Webb. The interviews with team officials are critical for players with what the NFL calls "characters issues," especially players such as Nicholson, whose situation remains unresolved.

"If they're paying money to have you on their team, (teams) should want to ask and should want to know, and are obligated to know," Nicholson said. "I have no problem answering any questions."

And though Nicholson, who led FSU in tackles for the second straight season, is holding on to the hope of being a first-round pick, he is realistic about his situation.

"It hurt me because it kind of damaged my character and put me in a light that I don't want to be put in," he said. "They know I'm a good player."

Nicholson didn't go into detail about Dec. 29, but he acknowledged knowing the woman from Tallahassee. Police have not announced a time for completing the investigation.

Nicholson, who was measured at 6-foot and 232 pounds during his physical, also will be confronted with questions about pleading no contest to a DUI charge in August, for which he was sentenced to six months' probation, and another scrape with police that didn't result in charges.

Virginia Tech's Vick was suspended for the 2004 season because of legal problems. He was reinstated for his junior season in 2005 but was dismissed after the Gator Bowl. He has had at least five run-ins with police during the past two years, including a 30-day jail sentence for three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Vick said he will tackle the many questions "just by telling them how it is, and telling them the truth. I'm not going to go in there and bite my tongue, and beat around the bush or lie about situations because they'll find out the truth."

Gainesville police decided Tuesday not to charge Webb in an incident involving a shot fired with a AK-47 rifle into an occupied apartment adjacent to his residence. Webb, who was present during the shooting, owns the rifle but did not fire it, police said. No one was injured.

Still, teams likely will inquire about the incident.

And he, like others with what the NFL considers character issues, will find out April 29-30 how their actions have impacted their draft status.

"I just want a team to give me a shot," Vick said. "It doesn't matter the round, or how much money we're talking. I just want a shot to be able to prove my ability."