In 2001, RB Pepe Pearson was the NFLEL's second-leading rusher for the second consecutive season
Since finishing his collegiate career in 1997, running back Pepe Pearson has been as busy as just about any NFL player, just not always at the same time.
Pearson has been to three summer NFL training camps in three seasons and has earned fall practice squad looks with four different teams. His most intense action, however, has come during the last two springs.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Pearson to a one-year contract on Wednesday, giving him a fourth NFL training camp shot. Pearson earned that camp spot with another outstanding season in the NFL Europe League, where he has been one of the continent's most productive runners over the past two seasons.
The Bucs also made another NFLEL-related roster move on Wednesday, releasing WR Eddie Hardaway. Hardaway, originally signed by Tampa Bay on January 3, was Pearson's NFLEL teammate this spring with the Rhein Fire.
Pearson (5-10, 209), the former Ohio State star who originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with San Francisco in 1998, will head to his fourth consecutive NFL training camp. He spent August of 1998 with the 49ers, then went to camp with Detroit in '99 and Pittsburgh last year. In between, Pearson has seen practice squad time with Jacksonville (1998), Green Bay ('98), Chicago ('98) and Pittsburgh ('00).
After sitting out the 1999 NFL season, Pearson was drafted into the NFLEL by the Fire in February of 2000. He went on to star in that league, racking up 486 rushing yards to trail only new Buc teammate Aaron Stecker in the final rankings. Pearson and the Fire then clashed with Stecker's Scottish Claymores in the World Bowl championship game, and the Rhein back scored the winning touchdown with 1:12 remaining in his team's 13-10 victory.
That performance earned Pearson another NFL shot with Pittsburgh, and though he spent most of last fall on the Steelers' practice squad, he was again a free agent in January. The Fire protected his NFLEL rights and Pearson went on to again finish second in the league with 597 rushing yards.
The signing of Pearson and the release of Hardaway means the Bucs' roster remains at 85 players, with two potential openings for additional NFLEL free agents.
The Buccaneers can head to camp with up to 88 players, though eight of those must be 2001 NFLEL performers, as that's the number of exemptions the team earned by sending players overseas. Currently, two of the open roster slots are NFLEL exemptions while the other, created when rookie CB Alex Ardley was released last month, can be used on any free agent.