PIQUA — When it comes to trials and triumphs, former Ohio State football player Maurice Clarett knows that it is not always a straight path to success — and sometimes takes more than one second chance and the right support system to better one’s life.
Through an invitation from the Piqua Compassion Network, Clarett connected with sixth-grade students at Piqua Central Intermediate School and athletes at Piqua High School and talked about how he overcame his troubled past.
Clarett said he did not bring fanfare with him on his visit, simply a story about choices and consequences.
His difficulties began when he was the same age as some of the sixth graders sitting in the PCIS gymnasium, getting involved with friends who were more interested in committing crime.
“I grew up in a very violent town,” Clarett said, whose hometown is Youngstown. “The cool thing to do was be in trouble.”
As a result of wanting to do what was cool, Clarett admitted that he became a bully to other kids.
“I hatefully and regretfully admit it,” Clarett said. “And as a result from it, I found myself in a bunch of trouble.”
That trouble manifested itself in stealing a car with his friends and taking part in a high-speed chase from police that ultimately landed him in juvenile detention. Later on, as a 12 year old, a fist fight also got him in trouble with the law. Then, while he was in eighth grade, he found himself in juvenile detention again and managed to get probation for breaking into a residence.
“We broke into the home,” Clarett said. “This is my third time in trouble in like two years.”
Clarett said a mentor encouraged him to take part in sports, saying, “You really have to start changing your life.”
“My ninth-grade year, my entire life changed,” Clarett said.
Clarett threw himself into sports — playing football and basketball — which then opened up to his mind to see different possiblities for his future. “It was the first time I saw a college letter come to my house.”
While he struggled academically, Clarett was still able to get accepted to The Ohio State University to be a running back for the Ohio State Buckeyes football team.
While he had success on the field, Clarett explained that he got distracted by the party lifestyle that was available to him.
“I was pretty unfocused,” Clarett said. “I didn’t take school serious.”
Clarett was eventually dismissed from Ohio State, after which he moved to Los Angeles, Calif. A couple years later, Clarett was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2005.
“I thought things would be different,” Clarett said.
Clarett had not kept up with training as well as he should have, though, during the whole of the period in between leaving Ohio State and getting drafted.
“Your habits create your future,” Clarett said. “I created habits of doing drugs, drinking … For two years, I wasn’t training.”
Clarett struggled after getting to Denver, Colo., was eventually released from his contract after approximately eight months.
“I came back to Ohio further depressed,” Clarett said.
Clarett had no outlook on life, which led to costly mistakes as he participated in armed robberies in January 2006 and led police on a high-speed chase in August 2006. After the high-speed chase, police found drugs and multiple firearms in his vehicle.
Clarett took a plea deal and was eventually released from prison after almost four years. While in prison, he received treatment for depression, took part in emotional support courses, and educated himself by enrolling in a distance-learning program while also reading books on psychology and business.
“I had different aspirations and goals,” Clarett said about his release from prison.
Clarett became a motivational speaker and participated in an EPSN documentary called “Youngstown Boys.” He also became an advocate for mental health resources.
Clarett encouraged the students to be mindful of with whom they spend their time.
“Successful people hang around successful people,” Clarett said.
Executive Director Rebecca Sousek of the Piqua Compassion Network said that it was a great opportunity for Clarett to share his story with Piqua students and athletes. His visit is part of a celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the Piqua Compassion Network.
“I just keep thinking about the heart of the community,” Sousek said. “Maurice is a perfect example of that with his work.” Sousek added, “That’s probably the most important legacy we can leave for our kids is compassion.”
Superintendent Dwayne Thompson said that it was good for students to hear how Clarett faced trials and eventually triumphed.
“He has a great message to share,” Thompson said.
Reach Sam Wildow at firstname.lastname@example.org or (937) 451-3336