Life, for Maurice Clarett, has been an emotional ride of ups and downs mixed in a concoction that almost led him down a path of no return.
He went from football prodigy at Warren G. Harding High School to a state hero in Ohio as a star running back for the Buckeyes. The winning touchdown he scored in a double-overtime win against Miami of Florida in the 2002 national championship game remains among the crown jewels in every corner of the state.
Clarett was only 19 when the Buckeyes won the national title. He had it all going, including a possible run at the Heisman Trophy in his next two college seasons.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Former coach Jim Tressel has never lost faith in Maurice Clarett, as ESPN prepares to run a “30 for 30”?special about Clarett on?Saturday.
Those dreams never materialized. Personal issues that began building later in 2002 eventually led to his dismissal from the team by then-coach Jim Tressel. Clarett never played another down of football in college or the NFL.
Instead, Clarett's life spun out of control, leading to a 2006 arrest in which he was involved in a police chase in Columbus. He later pleaded guilty to multiple weapons charges and was entenced to seven-and-a-half years of imprisonment. He was granted an early release in April of 2010.
The Clarett story will be featured on ESPN's 30 for 30 series in a documentary titled "Youngtown Boys" on Saturday at 9 p.m. following the presentation of the Heisman Trophy. ESPN began filming the special several months ago. A crew was in Struthers last May when Clarett and several athletes and coaches participated in a charity basketball game.
Clarett talked about how much his life changed during his prison term in an interview with the Tribune Chronicle in May. He became an avid reader of anything he could get his hands on. He shared his thoughts in a blog, showing a side of him that hadn't previously been known to the public.
The image Clarett created was one of potential greatness destroyed from within. He became an angry man consumed by a desire to strike it rich in the NFL. He argued with officials at Ohio State and was eventually dismissed from the football program in 2003 after it was discovered that he had filed a false police report.
Tressel, who resigned as Ohio State coach in May of 2011, recently viewed the special. He knows many of those who watch it won't feel sympathy for Clarett, but he believes they might be touched by the honesty Clarett shows in interviews.
"Throughout the course of the movie, he doesn't sugarcoat that he made mistakes," said Tressel, now vice-president for student success at the University of Akron. "What he wants to do going forward is to do good things. He's well on his way to doing that.
"For any one that's human that's watching it and has made mistakes - I don't know of anyone who hasn't made mistakes - I think it will be encouraging to them."
That encouragement comes from the rising-from-the-ashes part of the story. Clarett never fulfilled his dream of playing in the NFL - he failed in a tryout in the Denver Broncos' 2005 training camp - but he's proving he can be a viable member of any community.
"Here is a guy that had a lot of opportunity, left it on the table and is making a great comeback. That's pretty good," Tressel said.
Tressel gave Clarett strong support through the troubled times and again now that he's functioning in society. Tressel never gave a second thought to confirming his visit to Struthers for the charity event.
Tressel believes in Clarett and his mission to live a good life. He thinks Clarett views the special as a way of extending a message of hope to people who may be facing problems similar to what he dealt with several years ago.
"There are people that may need a little boost that it's not too late to turn things around," Tressel said. "He's hopeful it will be a very positive impact on people."
Clarett keeps busy these days, speaking to youth groups and working with social and church programs. The charity basketball game benefitted Victory Christian's Riot Youth Center.
Clarett expressed a desire to help troubled young people during the May interview. The story that ESPN tells in its 30 for 30 show is another step in reaching out.
"It will be entertaining because it's the story of a man's life, and football is in it and a lot of things that will rekindle memories," Tressel said. "There's also a very hopeful message in it that it's never too devastating to overcome; it's never too late to overcome. His goal in life now is to help people understand that, which is pretty cool."