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MAURICE CLARETT
MICHAEL MCKNIGHT
July 08, 2013
He was one of the most promising teenage athletes in the country—until he left school early, whiffed in the NFL and wound up in prison. Now, after some serious recalibration, has he found the focus to reclaim that promise on a whole new field?
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July 08, 2013

Maurice Clarett

He was one of the most promising teenage athletes in the country—until he left school early, whiffed in the NFL and wound up in prison. Now, after some serious recalibration, has he found the focus to reclaim that promise on a whole new field?

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"I was [getting home] at four in the morning instead of getting up at four in the morning," Clarett says of those turbulent early years. "Whatever came to mind, whatever I felt like doing, I just did it. No planning, no organization, no looking toward the future, no accountability, no responsibility. Just recklessness."

"People are interested in Maurice now because they want to find out how this person ends up," says Ashley. "Is he the arrogant, bigheaded guy who tried to ruin Ohio State? Or is he something else?"

As hard as he strives for "something else," a mask of darkened skin around Clarett's eyes—a mysterious and blotchy Hamburglar stain—serves as a daily reminder that he was once as arrogant and bigheaded and reckless as they come. "It's from the Mace," he explains over the only meal he'll eat on this day, a batch of lean chicken fingers. "They didn't let me wash the Mace off that night. It burned. That's what happens."

If Clarett has a singular flaw, says his friend, mentor and former coach at Ohio State, Jim Tressel, it's that "he always goes 100 miles an hour—especially his mind. And when you're 18 or 19, that's a very distracting thing. It's a little easier to manage when you're 30. Even in ninth grade you could see how bright he was, and you could tell his success would be a matter of warding off a million different distractions. Because distractions make it hard to execute."

When Clarett arrived at Ohio State in 2002, Tressel called his prized freshman into his office and listed 13 challenges the young man would face in the coming months. Tressel chose 13 because it matched Clarett's jersey number, which he knew Clarett had worn since childhood. (Tressel didn't know that Clarett had chosen 13 to commemorate the 13 staples he received in his scalp following a tumble from a neighbor's second-story window during a failed burglary.)

"He told me to expect new friends to come around," Clarett recalls. "He said popularity would come; increased attention from the media...."

"Maurice blew them off," says Tressel. "A year or so later he's in my office again, and every one of those 13 things had happened."

"He saw it all coming," says Clarett.

One of the questions Clarett must answer with his newfound focus: Is rugby a distraction? Or is it a worthwhile grind that could bring a higher platform for his teachings—perhaps even a medal? He dreams of playing for the national sevens team when rugby debuts as an Olympic sport in Rio in 2016, but his training has been sporadic at best because of his various public appearances—a schedule that today has him driving three hours northeast to Youngstown, where he grew up.

Clarett arrives an hour early for his engagement at a church, so he swings by his old neighborhood to visit his mother. Michelle Clarett's house lies at the end of a long row of houses that are hurting, but her hedges are trimmed, her lawn mowed, her windows without boards. There's a garish yellow Humvee gathering dust out back—Maurice's ride before he economized his life.

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