The news of Maurice Clarett’s latest arrest is sad, troubling, and heartbreaking. I feel partly responsible for this.
On August 24, 2002, Clarett was an 18-year-old freshman at Ohio State (he technically still hadn’t sat through his first academic class) and exploded onto the national landscape. After rushing for 175 yards and 3 touchdowns, Clarett gave the football crazy Buckeye State hope for the first time in four years. It was “Clarett mania” both locally with “Maurice the Beast” t-shirts and nationally with an ESPN cover story. I too was engulfed in the storm, as an entire fan base rode Clarett all the way to the national title.
Along the way, Clarett began showing chinks in his armor. In his ESPN article, Clarett foolishly thought he was in the same class as LeBron James, and admitted that he considered testing the NFL’s draft restriction policy after the ’02 season. This set off a media frenzy in the Columbus area.
Later in the season, Clarett openly argued with running backs coach Tim Spencer on the sidelines of the Northwestern game. Camera crews later spotted Clarett crying on the sidelines. When he was not permitted to return home, on OSU’s tab, for the funeral of a childhood friend, Clarett made the aforementioned incidents seem minute after he lambasted OSU openly.
Some in the media called Clarett “the next Jim Brown,” viewing the running back capable of arguing his opinion on social issues. Many fans thought Clarett was being selfish, and felt he should have expressed his opinions to his coaches privately.
Clarett’s play in the championship game against No. 1 Miami made fans once again overlook his past incidents. Clarett ran for 2 TDs, including the game winner in double overtime. He also made one of the most incredible plays in college football history. In the third quarter, quarterback Craig Krenzel threw an interception to Miami’s Sean Taylor. Clarett not only caught up with the speedy Hurricane DB, but he stripped and recovered the football all in one amazing motion. That would have given the heavily favored ‘Canes the momentum and the ball with OSU clinging to a 14-7 led. Instead, thanks to Clarett, OSU was able to expand the lead with a field goal. It amazes me that the 2002 Fiesta Bowl was probably Clarett’s last competitive game ever.