Maurice Clarett was so good as a freshman at Ohio State that he tried to enter the NFL Draft before he was eligible. Clarett went from national title game hero, to out of football, to in prison in what felt like a blink of an eye. How does one of the best players in college football have such a swift fall from grace? After a rollercoaster of a football career, what is Maurice Clarett up to today?
Ohio State career
After a dominant high school career, and being named the USA Today Offensive High School Player of the Year, Clarett could have played for just about any college in the country. Fielding offers from Ohio State, Notre Dame and Miami, he decided to stay local and play for Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes. Although Clarett was only at Ohio State for one season, he certainly made an impact. He ran for the most yards a Buckeyes freshman ever had and played a major role in Ohio State's undefeated season which ended in a national title game victory.
If fans weren't familiar with Clarett before the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, they definitely were afterwards. In one of the most-memorable plays in college football history, Clarett stripped the ball from Miami safety Sean Taylor after the Hurricanes intercepted a pass from Ohio State QB Craig Krenzel. If Clarett hadn't retrieved the ball, there's a good chance the Buckeyes would have lost the game. Although he only rushed for 47 yards, Clarett ran for two touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime.
After an academic scandal and claims that Clarett received thousands of dollars from a family friend, the running back was suspended for the entire 2003 season. During this time Clarett was also accused of stealing from a rental car and misleading investigators. While being suspended after a national title run is bad enough, things only got worse for Clarett.
Instead of finding his way back to a college campus, Clarett decided to sue the NFL over a rule, which prevents players from entering the draft if they hadn't been out of high school for three years. To many people's surprise, Clarett won the case and was ruled eligible for the 2004 NFL Draft. After a federal appeal put the ruling on hold, Clarett was ruled ineligible.
While Clarett was training for the 2005 NFL Draft, more stories of scandals from his Ohio State days began to circulate. An investigation alleged that Clarett received passing grades, cars and money from the university.
Clarett's short time in the NFL
While some teams considered Clarett "undraftable" or a sixth round pick at the earliest, the Denver Broncos took a chance and drafted him at the end of the third round. The surprising move did not pay off for Denver as Clarett was waived before the season even started. Once on the waiver wire, he was not claimed by a team and his days in the NFL were over. In a 2017 article, Sporting News named Clarett the Broncos' worst draft pick of all time. When asked about releasing Clarett, then Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan said “I think any time you cut somebody in the third round, you feel like you made a mistake. When you do that, you make a mistake and you go on.”
To make matters worse, Maurice Clarett turned down a guaranteed signing bonus of $410,000 in order to land an incentive based deal that could pay him millions if he performed well.
Following his time with the Broncos, there was mutual interest between Clarett and the Steubenville Stampede of the American Indoor Football League, but due to legal issues a deal was never reached.
Legal troubles and life in prison
The year after his release from the Broncos was a rough one for Clarett. In January 2006, he was accused of robbing two people at gunpoint behind a Columbus bar. He turned himself in and was indicted on two counts of aggravated robbery with a gun. He pleaded not guilty to the charges, but was arrested for an unrelated crime while on trial. During this time, Clarett began using drugs and developed a drinking problem.
In August of that same year, after making an illegal u-turn, Clarett got into a high-speed chase with police. The chase ended after he drove his car over a spike strip. Once detained, Clarett resisted to the point where police felt it was necessary to mase and use a taser on him. Officers searched his vehicle and found two swords, two loaded handguns, an AK-47 and an opened bottle of vodka. Clarett was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison, with the chance of release after three and a half years.
While in prison, Clarett began to turn his life around. He enrolled in a program through Ohio University with the hopes of earning a bachelor's degree. He also started a blog called The Mind Of Maurice Clarett. In addition to writing on his blog, Clarett read up on psychology and business.
After three and a half years, Clarett was released, but was required to enter a halfway house.
Life after prison
Upon leaving the halfway house, Clarett signed with the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League. While he was far from his old self, the former Buckeyes star did score a touchdown in his only season with the team. Clarett's football career officially came to an end when the UFL suspended operations.
For the first time in his post-football life, things seemed to be working out for Clarett. He began to patch up his relationship with Ohio State and was even invited back to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the 2002 Buckeyes undefeated season. Clarett enrolled in courses at the university and even worked out with the football team.
Because he suffered from depression himself, Clarett became an advocate for mental illness and began speaking at prisons. He also spent time at youth football camps, telling his story because he didn't want to see others make the same mistakes that he did. In 2016, Clarett started a behavioral health agency called The Red Zone, which his mother, Michelle, is currently the president of.
Giving back to the community
The Red Zone helps people with substance abuse and other mental illnesses. The agency's website states that the program is "designed to provide services for youth and adults at risk for psychiatric disabilities/disorders or have other mental health needs." The program offers services that "encompass a wide variety of therapeutic settings and intervention modalities, offering assistance to individuals with behavioral health disabilities or co-occurring disabilities; intellectual, developmental disabilities, victims or perpetrators of domestic violence or abuse, persons needing treatment because of eating or sexual disorders, and/or drug and alcohol addictions."
The Red Zone services over 1000 people, 700 of which are children.
On top of his mental health advocacy, Clarett helped start a very successful podcast called Business & Biceps, a show "for entrepreneurs and those who aspire to be better."
In 2018, Clarett took his experience with business and mental health to the political realm to advocate for education reform, workforce training and addiction.
Youngstown Boys: ESPN's 30 for 30 on Clarett and Jim Tressel
In 2013, ESPN released a documentary centered around the rise and fall of Clarett. While the documentary is largely focused on the former running back, it also touches on former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. Both Clarett and Tressel are from Youngstown, Ohio and had unexpected exits from the university. The documentary has an 80% on Rotten Tomatotes and a solid 7.7 on IMDB, so if you're not completely familiar with Clarett's story, it's definitely worth checking out.
Maurice Clarett today
Today, Clarett is still working with The Red Zone. He has a fiance, a daughter and a new born son. In 2016, he was charged with a DUI but has been sober ever since. He regularly attends therapy and takes medication for his mental illness.
He recently wrote a book titled One and Done: How My Life Started After My Football Career Ended and continues to work every day, making sure others don't fall into the same traps that he did. In an ESPN interview in 2020, Clarett was quoted saying "I'm living proof that no matter where you start off at and no matter what you're going through, there's a way to gradually get to where you want to go."
Maurice Clarett's story is an inspiring one. A story so inspiring even a Michigan fan root for.