By Joe Scalzo
Maurice Clarett will talk about his time in jail. He’ll talk about learning from his mistakes. He’ll talk about his faith, his future and his dreams of making it back to the NFL.
What he won’t talk about, at least this week, is Jim Tressel.
The former Ohio State standout declined comment Wednesday about his former college coach, who stepped down on Monday amid a scandal over players swapping autographs and memorabilia for tattoos.
“I don’t weigh in with my opinion,” said Clarett, who was in town to speak to high school students at Victory Christian Center. “I feel like there’s enough opinions out there with everything that’s going on.”
Clarett, who led the Buckeyes to the national championship in 2002, was found to have received money and other benefits at Ohio State and was suspended for the 2003 season. He has since repaired his relationship with Tressel — Clarett said he spoke to him on Tuesday night — and told the students that the people in this Valley should support the former Youngstown State coach
“Coach Tressel, he’s a hometown guy,” said Clarett, a South Side native who graduated from Warren Harding High. “I feel like everybody from the area should support him because he’s done enough for this community and he’s done enough for the people here.
“He’s a very [devoted] Christian and I’ll just leave it at that.”
After unsuccessfully challenging the NFL’s draft eligibility rules in 2004, Clarett was selected in the third round by the Denver Broncos in 2005 but was released during training camp. He was eventually arrested twice and spent 31/2 years in prison, missing out on time with his daughter, Jayden (who is now 4) and his girlfriend, Ashley Evans.
He spent that time reflecting on his choices and vowing to change his life, he said.
“I was locked down 23 hours a day,” he said. “Through all that time, some transformation is going to take place. You’re living in a box.
“I started to realize, I’ve got to grow up.”
After his release, Clarett signed with the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League and finished the season with 37 attempts for 154 yards and a touchdown. Although he said he’s looking forward to this season, his ultimate goal is to return to the NFL.
“If you asked me right now, ‘Do I feel I can make it?’ I’d say absolutely, yes,” said Clarett, 27. “But as I get older, other things become important, like raising my family.”
Clarett lives in Columbus but said he’ll always consider Youngstown home. He’s hoping to use his life story to help others avoid his mistakes.
“There’s a lot of people who’ve helped me a lot, helped me through the mistakes I’ve made and given me second chances,” he said. “You’ve got to give that back in any way possible.”