MIDDLEPORT — The Middleport Church of Christ hosted former Ohio State and NFL football player Maurice Clarett on Thursday evening to tell youth about his story of football and mental health.
Clarett played for The Ohio State University in 2002 — breaking many records and helping the team win the national championship against Miami as a freshman.
Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, Clarett didn’t have an easy childhood. He said the first time he got into trouble was when he was 10 years old and he was sent to a juvenile jail for three days. By the age of 12, he had seen three people killed. Clarett was told by a judge to put his time and energy into sports and that is what he did. It took Clarett a few years to realize the talent he had. He thought because he was from a small town, he didn’t have a special gift and he did not think he would make it anywhere with football.
After his freshman year at OSU, Clarett got swept up in the fame and success at the age of 19. At the beginning of his sophomore year, he was suspended from the football team for two years and had 125 violations against him. He left OSU and started drinking more, smoking more, and making irresponsible decisions.
In February 2005, around two years since he played his last game, Clarett was invited to the NFL combine to run drills with the top players in the 2005 draft class. In April of that year, Clarett was drafted in the third round by the Denver Broncos. He played for them for four months before he was cut from the team.
Clarett went back to Ohio and he realized he was depressed. He was confused, stressed, and had anxiety. Following a string of events — including a robbery and a high speed chase — Clarett was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2006.
“In that time, I had so much reflection,” Clarett said. “How did you get here, how are you in this position.”
Clarett said his coaches at OSU and Denver all tried to get him to see a psychiatrist and other mental health specialists. Clarett would never go. However, in prison, he participated in therapeutic courses and has been on medication for his mental health issues since 2006.
Clarett realized that his anxiety was caused by his perspective on situations and events in life. He also realized that what he thought, is how he would act.
“Whatever you think about, whatever you manifest, is how you behave,” Clarett said. He said before he became well known after his freshman season, he didn’t drink or smoke. However, with the fame, Clarett thought these bad decisions went along with it.
In 2018, Clarett opened a mental health facility in Youngstown to help youth who may be going down difficult roads. Several people tried to help Clarett with his mental health, but he never thought it was necessary. Now, he advocates to help normalize the mental health issues in society.
“It’s funny how things you resisted when you were younger, are the things you teach,” Clarett said. The facility, named The Red Zone, treats people with drug and alcohol addictions, as well as adolescents with a range of mental health problems. Many of the patients are referred by courts and school systems.
Clarett also encourages youth to take control over their actions and to be good people, because “at some point, all talent runs out and then the rest of who you are, is what you do,” Clarett said.
Kayla Hawthorne is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing.