Maurice Clarett Gets a Second Chance

by Ryan Isley (Originally posted 7/29/2010)

In 2002, a young 18-year-old nationally heralded running back by the name of Maurice Clarett accepted a scholarship offer to play football at Ohio State.

Eight years later, a 26-year-old Maurice Clarett enrolled in summer classes at Ohio State to resume his academic career after spending three and a half years in the Toledo Correctional Institution on convictions of robbery and weapons charges.

The names may be the same, but make no mistake, as these are two completely different people.

The 18-year-old Clarett ran for 1,237 yards and 18 touchdowns as a freshman despite missing three games due to injury.

The five-foot-11 freshman also had several key plays, including the winning touchdown in the second overtime, against the Miami Hurricanes in the 2002 BCS National Championship Game, helping the Buckeyes win the national championship.

The spectacular season had people around Columbus buzzing like very few times before and made Buckeyes fans start to believe that Clarett could join Archie Griffin as the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner, if not becoming the first player to win the award three times if he stayed all four years.

Then the bottom fell out for the teenager at Ohio State when Clarett was suspended for the 2003 football season after he was charged with filing a false police report. Eventually Clarett plead guilty to failing to aid law enforcement, a lesser charge.

After his suspension Clarett decided, along with USC freshman wide receiver Mike Williams, to challenge the NFL’s eligibility rule and therefore be included in the 2004 draft, a challenge that was eventually denied.

Despite not having played football in 2003 or 2004, Clarett was unexpectedly taken in the third round of the 2005 draft by the Denver Broncos, despite a poor showing at the NFL Combine.

Clarett was released by the Broncos before playing in even a single preseason game and was never claimed by another NFL team.

Unfortunately that was only the beginning of a downward spiral for Clarett.

Shortly after the ringing in of the new year in 2006, Columbus police were on the hunt for Clarett in connection to an armed robbery outside the Opium Lounge club in Columbus.

When Clarett turned himself in the next day, he was charged with two counts of aggravated robbery and five weeks later, he was indicted by a grand jury on two counts of aggravated robbery with gun specifications and five other counts.

While awaiting trial, Clarett was again arrested, this time on charges that he made an illegal u-turn and led police on a chase, charges that resulted in his bail being set at $5 million.

After accepting a plea bargain, Clarett was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison, but could be released after just three and a half years.

While in prison, Clarett started to write a blog entitled “The Mind of Maurice Clarett” on October 7, 2008.

Through his writings, it was becoming clear that Clarett was beginning to change, to see the wrongs he had done and that he wanted to do better.

His last post, on August 15, 2009, read:

“One thing that really frustrates me is that I have not been relevant to my family for the past four summers. That puts a chip on my shoulder. I have no one to blame but myself.  The thoughts just put me in a zone like no other. It puts me in my “One and only” mode. I know that there is no way for me to make up for lost time but hopefully my actions in the future will help them to forget all that’s taken place in the past. I never thought I’d once again be in the position of thinking how am I going to get out of this rut. I think that the longer I wait the more serious I become. I think it’s because I have a good understanding on what it means to be physically free.”

It seemed to be the beginning to a new Clarett, the one who just this past Monday at 26 years of age started classes again at Ohio State.

The new Clarett is in a position to turn his life around and make right for what he now knows was wrong, a spot that not everyone gets a chance to be in.

One person who has been by Clarett’s side is Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, who was instrumental in getting Clarett re-enrolled at the school.

In speaking with the Columbus Dispatch’s Ken Gordon, Tressel said that he had been working with Clarett and the school for the past few months to get Clarett enrolled and said that Clreatt is excited to be back in school.

In a statement from Clarett released by Ohio State, the former star athlete-turned-student showed that excitement.

“This is a surreal feeling to be back at Ohio State in such a supportive environment,” Clarett said. “I have looked forward to being back in school, and I’m doing my best to fit in with other students. I don’t want to be a distraction or nuisance to the football team or to students on campus.”

It seems that Clarett has found something this time around that he did not have in his first tour of Ohio State, a true sense of self and accountability.

While the former Clarett was the one getting the cheers at Ohio Stadium as he broke tackles and ran for touchdowns, it is the latter Clarett that truly deserves the applause because the next time Clarett walks onto the football field at Ohio Stadium, it should be to get his degree.

Braxton Miller Could Be The Next Big Thing In Columbus

By Ryan Isley (Originally posted on 9/19/2010)

When a player is ranked by ESPN as the second-highest rated overall quarterback in his recruiting class and then by Rivals.com as the top-ranked quarterback in the class, there has to be something special about him.

Ohio State’s top verbal recruit for the class of 2011, quarterback Braxton Miller of Huber Heights Wayne High School, is no exception.

Imagine Michael Vick at Virginia Tech, if only Vick had a better knowledge of the offense, a more accurate arm and no pit bulls.

Imagine Reggie Bush at USC, if only Bush could have combined his speed and elusiveness with the arm of 2006 Rose Bowl opponent Vince Young, and if he had not received improper benefits.

Imagine Ohio State’s 2006 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith, if only Smith were a couple inches taller and had the skills as a college freshman that he developed as a junior and a senior.

Those are the kinds of comparisons that the 6-foot-2, 200-lb senior from Huber Heights Wayne High School is facing.

“The comparisons are an honor, but I just gotta keep improving and get better,” Miller said.

Lately though, it has been more of his arm than his athletic ability that has Miller looking more like Young and wowing those in attendance.

“Running is an example of being an athlete, but I only run if I have to,” Miller said. “I always like to stay in the pocket and pass.”

Miller showed his running ability in Wayne’s season-opening loss to Cincinnati Moeller, running a 27-yard touchdown and then an electrifying 75-yard run for a touchdown that made the comparisons to Vick and Bush seem legit.

After missing the Warriors’ loss to Canton McKinley two weeks ago with an ankle injury, Miller returned last week to lead Wayne to a 31-7 win over Seneca as he was 10-for-23 for 92 yards and did not have any rushing plays called for him as they tried to rest his ankle.

Friday night, Miller proved to all doubters that he can indeed be more than just an athlete playing quarterback, as he was 9-for-21 for 133 yards with one touchdown and one interception in a 21-7 win over Trotwood-Madison at Heidkamp Stadium on the campus of Wayne High School.

While the numbers may not look like those of a quarterback who was in control, most of his damage came in the first half as he was 8-for-14 for 130 yards and the touchdown. Miller’s second half numbers are skewed by at least four dropped passes, including one to a wide-open receiver in the third quarter that would have been a long touchdown pass.

Despite being more of a pocket passer Friday night, it was Miller’s legs that provided the backdrop for the play of the night in the second quarter.

With the ball at their own 36-yard-line, Miller took the snap and was chased immediately. He scrambled around and stopped just short of the line of scrimmage on the dead run and fired a 40-yard strike to Armani Miller, leading to a 45-yard gain and eventually a Warriors touchdown.

“They were coming hard from the backside and blitzing, so I just rolled out to my left and looked downfield,” Miller said. “I did (think about running) but my ankle said no so I let my arm do the work.”

One of the other impressive things about Miller at such an early stage in his career is his maturity to bounce back when a receiver drops an easy catch, as happened a few times Friday night.

Even though Miller is just a verbal commit right now, there is no worry that he will back out of that commitment and sign elsewhere on signing day, as he went out and got an Ohio State tattoo on his left bicep.

“I have always been committed to my team,” Miller said. “Right now I am committed to Ohio State.”

Once he is on campus and wearing the scarlet and gray. Fans will be just as committed to Miller as he is to the Buckeyes.

Follow me on Twitter: @isley23