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Real men do not quit on themselves.... Everyone will get a chance to see what it is like to come up from rock bottom. I will show everyone what a deep desire to succeed looks like.
—MAURICE CLARETT, from Toledo Correctional Institution (April 25, 2009)
Old School Gym in Pataskala, Ohio, is a 1950s-era Quonset hut that resembles a section of giant earthworm half-buried on the shoulder of Highway 40. In the worm's gut, yellow insulation drips from the curved ceiling, hovering over dusty flooring that isn't really flooring at all but thick slabs of conveyor belt that once carried coal from a nearby mine. Maurice Clarett's hands touch nearly every piece of the rusted iron gym equipment covering that floor over his 90-minute workout, which on this late-spring morning consists of burnout sets for his shoulders, legs and core—the muscle groups most important to a rugby player.
Clarett is no longer the chubby, bearded inmate whose overfleshed face appeared on news outlets seven years ago. Nor is he the hot-footed teen running back whose 11-game career lifted Ohio State to the 2002 BCS title and spawned an unsuccessful bid to barge into the NFL. (Clarett ended up the Broncos' third-round pick in 2005, but was cut before he played a game.) He is 29 now; 5'11", 230 pounds of lean, purposeful muscle. Being embedded with him proves to be nearly as challenging as his training regimen: He sleeps about four hours a night, remains in constant motion and eats but a single, modest meal in the early afternoon. Clarett explains this minimalist, hyperefficient lifestyle with a single word, uttered in a distinctive old man's rasp still recognizable to any Buckeyes fan: prison.
"If you go to college for four years, what do you live like after those four years? You live the effects of what you were fed there," he explains. "I went to Austintown Fitch [High in northeast Ohio] for one year; I went to Warren G. Harding for three years; I went to Ohio State for 13 months; I was back and forth between California, Denver and Ohio. Then I was in prison for four years. Everything was concentrated. There was no moving around."
In Toledo Correctional, where he served 42 of his 43 months for aggravated robbery and weapons charges before his release in April 2010, Clarett occupied himself largely by reading voraciously and writing blog posts, which he self-published as a book earlier this year. Today he still abides by the manifesto he composed in a six-by-nine-foot cell, portions of which read like haiku:
Success speaks for itself. Entourage out, family in. (June 17, 2009)
The growth that people see in me came from behind these walls. (Oct. 23, 2008)
The education he gave himself in Toledo produced an earnest ascetic of a man who seeks not to overcome his imperfections—he still swears a blue streak and will probably never win an award for punctuality—nor to make amends for the havoc those imperfections have wreaked. Rather, he dissects, studies and shares his flaws, a one-man bomb squad who keeps his explosive device armed so that he can show others how to defuse theirs.
Before he leaves the gym, Clarett leaps up and grabs a steel bar that's 10'2" high, hanging one-handed for a second before grabbing on with both and repping out 20 strict pull-ups. His workout complete, he drops to the floor and lands in a deep squat, as if he's just dunked (which he can also do with authority and ease). He saunters into the parking lot and lays some dap on a local pastor—a 50-ish man who looks like a Ken doll and appears to know Clarett well—and says something that makes the pastor laugh hard. The sun has not come up yet.