A former football star is now scoring points with straight talk about his struggles and success.
Maurice Clarett, who led Ohio State University to college football’s National Championship in 2002, spoke candidly about his turbulent life to an audience of mostly young people at Willis School Auditorium on Wednesday. It was a talk that Clarett, 31, has given in 90 cities over the past 18 months.
“This is a story of redemption,” Clarett said. “My motto is never give up.”
Lacking a father figure growing up in Youngstown, Clarett said he had a couple of brushes with the law as a youngster. Then he discovered lifting weights and playing football.
“I knew I had a gift that was very special,” Clarett said. “I believed I could be the best.”
Clarett began his freshman season as fourth on the depth chart, but his practice habits made him the starting running back. In the season opener, he rushed for 175 yards and three touchdowns. Walking out of Ohio Stadium after the game, Clarett ran into some people he knew from Youngstown. Although he really wanted to go home and rest, Clarett went out with them.
“I was pressured to go out,” he said. “The next thing you know, I’m caught up.”
This continued through the season. Twice, head coach Jim Tressel warned Clarett to separate himself from the off-field crowd he ran with.
“I said, no, don’t worry about it,” Clarett told Tressel. “That was my selfish ego. I wanted to be a celebrity. I told the academic adviser to give me the easiest classes.”
Clarett rushed for 1,237 yards and 18 touchdowns in 11 games, and he scored the winning touchdown in double overtime against Miami to secure the National Championship.
However, Clarett was suspended in his sophomore season.
“I had no interest in school. I wasn’t being humble, and I went back to partying. I had no idea what Ohio State meant to everybody else.”
Missing a chance to be mentored by National Football League legend Jim Brown, Clarett moved to California. After not training hard in two years, Clarett disappointed at the NFL combine workouts. Despite being drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2005, Clarett had mixed feelings.
“I was happy to fulfill a dream, and nervous because I knew the amount of work I had to do. From the first day of practice, I knew it was over.”
Clarett then turned down a chance to play on the Broncos practice squad, and was subsequently cut from the team.
“I said, no, I don’t need any help. Athletes think we can do anything. I blew the biggest opportunity of my life.”
He returned to Ohio, but became bored, and fell back into old bad habits. The downward spiral continued, culminating in an arrest in 2006 that resulted in three and a half years in prison.
“My life had been shut down. I was isolated. I asked, how did I put myself here?”
However, it was in prison that Clarett discovered a love of reading, especially spiritual works and business books. He became a fan of billionaire investor Warren Buffet, and after his release from prison in 2010, got to meet him. In addition, Clarett resumed playing football for two seasons; took courses from and participated at OSU events; appeared in the ESPN “30 for 30” documentary “Youngstown Boys;” started a family; and tried his hand at philanthropic and business pursuits.
Calling himself an entrepreneur at heart, Clarett told the audience to take education seriously, and to have people in your life you can talk to.
“In my mind, I believe I’m not a failure,” he said. “I have an idea of who I am and who I want to become. I’m still writing more chapters in the book of my life.”
Following the talk, many waited in a long line to get Clarett’s autograph. His appearance was sponsored by the Delaware Police Department and Delaware County Prosecutor Carol O’Brien.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.