Maurice Clarett has requested an early release from prison. Clarett, now 26, has served a bit more than half of his 7 1/2-year prison sentence at the Toledo Correctional Institution. A local Franklin County Judge will rule on his request after getting information on his behavior in prison.
Clarett went to prison after being convicted of serious crimes. Still, I can’t help but pull for him a bit. Clarett had one of the most rapid falls imaginable, from the heights of athletic glory to the depths of incarceration. He was an integral part of the Ohio State team that beat the University of Miami Hurricanes for the national championship. He was a tough, aggressive, punishing runner whose ground game helped to anchor the Buckeyes. He carried a significant load in the Buckeyes’ offense that year, and he played through a number of injuries. Most memorably for me, in the national championship game he made one of the great pure football moves I’ve ever witnessed in person. After Craig Krenzel threw a dispiriting interception, Clarett ran down the Miami defensive back and somehow wrestled the ball away from him. It was a tremendous, instinctive play by a truly talented football player.
That National Championship game was the last game Clarett ever played for the Buckeyes. His behavior during that dream season had been somewhat erratic, but after the season he seemed to run off the rails. Rather than take his punishment for apparent misconduct that was the subject of NCAA investigation, he decided to challenge the NFL draft rules for underclassmen, ultimately lost that legal challenge, and later was cut after being drafted by the Denver Broncos. Thereafter, according to reports, he sank into increasingly bizarre behavior and eventually was convicted of criminal acts.
Clarett’s story is a sad one because he easily could have stayed with the team, graduated from school, supplemented his income with TV commercials, endorsements, and personal appearances, and been set for life as an honored member of the pantheon of Ohio State football sports heros. Instead, he made some disastrously bad choices as he struggled with fame and his inner demons. I always felt that Clarett could have used a father figure to advise him and give him better, more honest advice than what he was hearing from the sycophants around him. With better advice from a trusted figure, he might have turned things around and perhaps never have strayed so far to begin with.
I’m willing to give a 26-year-old a break and a chance to redeem himself. Good luck, Maurice Clarett.