Before LeBron James became a cult like figure in Ohio, there was another athlete who was an icon as a teenager as well. His name happened to be Maurice Clarett, the starting running back for THE Ohio State Buckeyes.
I can remember it like it was yesterday. Maurice Clarett suited up in the scarlet and gray to join a recruiting class that featured: Santonio Holmes, Troy Smith, A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, and Mike D’Andrea (to name a few). In 2002, the Buckeyes had to know they were getting a top-tier recruit, but could have only wished they were going to have arguably best player in the country – regardless of class.
Sharing the backfield with Maurice Hall and Lydell Ross, Clarett – wearing No.13 – earned his first opportunity against Texas Tech. In that first game, he rushed for 175 yards and crossed the goal line 3 times. Clarett went on to play in 11 games and rushed for 1,237 yards. He also scored 18 touchdowns. The stats may not blow your mind, but Clarett did not finish several games due to shoulder problems. He missed three games during a season when the team went 14-0.
As a freshman, Clarett help carry a team that went 6-6 the previous year to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl to defeat the University of Miam in the National Title game. When thinking about the University of Miami has not been “The U” since that dreadful night. The play that best describes Clarett as a player was a play where he didn’t score a touchdown, or run for 70 yards. That play that I am talking about Buckeye fans can envision it today. Clarett stripped All-American Sean Taylor (RIP) after he intercepted the ball. Clarett did whatever it took to win for his team. Whether it was stripping Taylor, or calling his own route on a receiving play to win a game(TTUN game), Clarett did it all.
I would argue that while Carson Palmer won the Heisman Trophy that year, Palmer was not the best player in the nation.
I’ll admit, I may be biased, but Clarett may have had the best Freshman season in the past 10 or so years. Johnny Manziel won the Heisman trophy last year and Jameis Winston will likely win it this year, but neither of them compare to what Clarett did for the their respective universities. Clarett was fresh out of high school. Manziel and Winston had the opportunity to be redshirted, which gave them a full year within their respective programs. Just imagine if social networks really captured the highlights of Clarett during his era.
After winning the National Championship nobody expected Clarett’s football career to end like it did. Clarett wanted to challenge the NFL’s age limit, and received horrible guidance from Jim Brown at the time. Clarett was still drafted by the Denver Broncos, but he never had one NFL carry. In the middle of his downfall from grace, Clarett turned on OSU, and they turned on him as well.
On the outside it may have seemed like he was a pain to deal with, but nobody really knows the story of Maurice Clarett. After a rollercoaster ride from being incarcerated to failing in the NFL, Clarett still stands tall with pride and dignity. Clarett had his issues with The Ohio State University, and has since patched things up. Everybody in life has a story, it just so happens that Clarett’s has been playing on public display for a little over a decade.
Though, Clarett didn’t become the NFL player that people envisioned him to be, he is still a great success story. From doing philanthropist work to becoming an author, Clarett has made a huge impact in life.
Undoubtedly, his story has been a compelling balance of fame and shame. I can’t wait to see it play out this Saturday, when ESPN debuts a 30 for 30 episode entitled “Youngstown Boys” that airs on December 14th.