When Maurice Clarett and Jim Tressel started their respective football careers in a city in the heart of Mahoning County, each seemed destined for greatness.
For Clarett, it was supposed to be a Heisman-worthy career at Ohio State before a lengthy and successful NFL journey. For Tressel, it was meant to be multiple national titles in Columbus and surpassing the shadow of Woody Hayes before riding off into the sunset.
Both men fell short, but ultimately found purpose in their lives that could impact many other people in ways other than either of the aforementioned legacies. In the end, two Youngstown boys, known for their football prowess, could very well make their hometown proud for reasons that could never take place between the white lines of a football field.
As part of its noteworthy documentary series “30 for 30,” ESPN released the latest chapter in the series Saturday, chronicling the lives of the former Buckeyes.
The special program, called “Youngstown Boys,” portrayed the rise, fall and rebirth of the former OSU running back and his relationship with the former Buckeye football coach.
As one could assume, the documentary offered a very in-depth profile of Clarett and his life, but took on a different theme as well. His relationship with Tressel took a large role in the film and made “Youngstown Boys” about much more than the trials and tribulations of one of the most iconic players in Buckeye history.
Directed by Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, the film provides a look into the firm relationship between the two men, from their roots in Youngstown to their beginnings at Ohio State. As the film depicted, Clarett was leaning towards Notre Dame or Michigan before Tressel took over in Columbus in 2001. From that moment on, the running back knew he was meant to be a Buckeye.
Although everything started off smoothly for the duo, their relationship — along with Clarett’s life — took a sharp negative following OSU’s 2003 National Championship victory against the Miami Hurricanes. Former OSU athletic director Andy Geiger took the brunt of the heat for Clarett’s suspension in 2003 after it was found he took illegal benefits, but the film also took an angle that portrayed Tressel as a sellout. Rather than being a father figure to the young and lost Clarett, Tressel followed the route of prestige and power, ultimately retaining favor and love from OSU and its vast nation of fans.
From that point, Clarett’s life turned into a nightmare. He sued the NFL and was ultimately denied the right to enter the NFL draft early. He fell into a deep depression that sent him back into the streets he narrowly avoided as a child. He worked hard to impress at the NFL combine after two years away from the game, but failed miserably and didn’t receive a single NFL carry after being drafted in the third round by the Denver Broncos. Finally, it all hit a breaking point as Clarett was jailed for having multiple loaded weapons in his car after a high-pursuit police chase.
That breaking point, as Clarett sat in jail, began to string together incidents that would bring the “Youngstown Boys” back together again.
Tressel, seeing the result of his mishandling of the former running back, began taking responsibility for his actions and hold himself to a higher standard. Ultimately, that higher standard cost him his job at OSU, as Tressel defended his players, as “any father would,” and took the fall for their actions.
Tressel resigned in 2011 after 10 seasons at the helm in the wake of the Tattoo-gate scandal, where some former players were found to be receiving illegal benefits. And in what seemed to be an ironic paradox, both “Youngstown Boys” saw such glory just years before, sat at the lowest points in their respective lives.
In their misery, both men found their purpose in life beyond football. As Clarett sat in jail, enriching his mind in the way he had enriched his body for years before, both the running back and the coach reached out to each other and rebuilt a strained relationship.
While OSU was certainly a glorious path along their journey, each of the “Youngstown Boys” said they believe there is a higher purpose to fulfill. Both are using their influence and experience to help people to better their lives.
Tressel, now executive vice president at the University of Akron, is trying to provide a guiding light to a new generation of students while Clarett is using his life to help provide a way for others to avoid his mistakes. Through it all, they maintain a very loving and helping relationship in which they have forgiven and forgotten all of their past transgressions.
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