MAURICE CLARETT, JIM TRESSEL and FRIENDS come back for a cause
By Steve Wilaj
A surprise starter for The Comeback Project Team, Jim Tressel ditched his accustomed sweater vest and laced up his sneakers for Saturday’s charity basketball game at the Struthers Fieldhouse.
“I haven’t played basketball in a long time and I’m glad I leave without any injuries,” Tressel said after going 0 for 2 and being held scoreless. “The first one rattled in and out. Then I lost my confidence after that.”
While the former Youngstown State and Ohio State football coach had a rough outing, more importantly, Tressel, Maurice Clarett and six other local football stars lead a successful charity event as part of The Comeback Project.
Raising money for the Riot Youth Center at Victory Christian Center in Lowellville, approximately 1,800 people packed the Fieldhouse as the Tressel-led squad defeated members of the Riot Youth Center, 73-50.
In addition to the game, Tressel and the players signed autographs and mingled with fans.
“It was great to see guys come back to their community,” Tressel said. “Just a bunch of good people, a great cause and it was a lot of fun.”
This marked the first event for The Comeback Project, which is led by Riot Pastor Nate Ortiz and Clarett, the former OSU and Warren G. Harding running back who continues his own personal comeback. The goal of TCP is to reach and impact young people of the area.
“This was awesome to see what Maurice and Pastor Ortiz were able to put together,” said Brad Smith, a Chaney High graduate and current Buffalo Bills wide receiver. “That they want to impact a lot of kids, and seeing all the kids that were here today, it’s just awesome.”
Prescott Burgess, a former Harding standout, also credited the work of TCP. More specifically, the former Baltimore Ravens linebacker praised Clarett for his efforts as he continues to rise from his past struggles.
“Not only is he working his way back up, but he’s doing it with importance and from a man’s point of view,” Burgess said. “Any time a man could do that, I have no reason not to support him. I’m just glad it turned out the way it did and everyone can see that we’re trying to give back.”
Other former local football stars in attendance included Hubbard’s Anthony Smith (Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers), as well as Harding’s Dave Herron (Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots). Herron’s younger brother, Dan “Boom” Herron also participated. Boom Herron is with the Cincinnati Bengals and played for Tressel at Ohio State.
“It was a great turnout to see all the guys back here today,” Boom Herron said. “For Maurice to do this, it was a great thing and I’m glad I was a part of it. This shows that we want to come back and help the community where we were raised and we want to continue to do things like this. However we can help, that’s what we’re gonna do.”
The locals were assisted by some outside help. The Indianapolis Colts’ Matt Overton — a friend of Clarett’s — played for team TCP, as did Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson.
“I’m just here to support a great cause and The Comeback Project is something special,” Overton said.
As for the play on the court, it was far from “special.” Still, the crowd was entertained throughout as Richardson scored 12 points, Clarett had eight and Burgess hit a barrage of 3-pointers to close the game.
“The game brought me back to high school,” Burgess said. “I got to do some things that I normally wouldn’t do in high school ball. I caught a little fire towards the end and I went into LeBron [James] mentality — take over the game.”
Smith joked: “We won and that’s all that matters. We’ll get back in the gym and get practicing.”
Ortiz hopes that the success of the event, which was filmed by ESPN Films for its upcoming “30 for 30” documentary on Clarett’s life, will help continue the progress of TCP.
“I think people are going to be talking about this — or at least I hope — for a while after,” he said. “Hopefully it gets some momentum behind it and we’ll see what else we have next.”
Whether or not this proves true, Dave Herron believes the TCP delivered an important message at least for one day.
“It shows the young kids that it’s never too late to turn your life back around like Maurice did,” he said. “I’m just really proud of him that he brought it back to the area, so now the kids out here could see that it’s never too late.”