ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP — A spectacular rise to fame and an equally quick run to depression, and prison, was not the end of ex-Ohio State star running back Maurice Clarett's story.
Clarett, who spoke with students Friday afternoon at Edgewood High School, said he went from juvenile delinquent, to Warren Harding "superstar," to Ohio State national champion in the course of four years. Then the problems began.
He wasn't prepared for the fame and adulation that surrounded him after he ran for 175 yards and three touchdowns in his first game as freshman against Texas Tech in 2002.
"I didn't know my life would change in one day. I had no clue or concept what I was going to deal with," Clarett said.
After that game, Clarett said he hit a club in Columbus and started a life of partying that destroyed his college football career — and almost his life.
A group of friends pushed him to the club life, and then he went willingly. He said fame can be a worse addiction than drugs.
"My head was blown so out of proportion," Clarett said.
After beating the University of Miami to win the national championship, Clarett continued on a whirlwind of partying, traveling on the 50 Cent and Jay-Z tours that led to 125 NCAA violations and resulted in the NCAA suspending him from Ohio State.
"I literally had lost focus," Clarett said.
He did not have the skills to deal with the feelings of depression and stress during the suspension, which Clarett said led to more partying to mask the pain.
"I began to cope with alcohol and drugs," he said.
After two years out of football and living in Los Angeles, Clarett was invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis in 2005. He said he failed miserably as he was out of shape and not ready to play football.
With Clarett's skill level, Denver Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan drafted him in the third round, with the 101st choice, hoping he would mature. It didn't happen.
"I panicked because I knew in my heart I wasn't prepared to play football," Clarett said, adding he would stay out partying until 5 a.m. and then go to practice.
Clarett urged students to find ways to deal with depression and stress at an early age. He said he was not ready to take that advice when he was with the Broncos — Shanahan even offered to provide a sports psychologist.
"I didn't see how talking to someone would help me," he said.
Clarett said he was cut because he refused all efforts to help him grow as a person and a football player.
Just a few month later, Clarett was involved in a Dec. 31, 2005, robbery in Columbus and things went down hill from there.
"My life was a wild shambles," he said.
While out on bail on the robbery charge, he driving into Columbus in August 2006 and Clarett said he took a U-turn after getting off the wrong exit and when a police officer tried to stop him he went on a high-speed chase that ended with traffic spikes stoping his vehicle.
Clarett was driving in a bullet proof vest with multiple guns, so he was charged with multiple felonies. Coupled with the robbery the previous year, he was eventually sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison.
Clarett said he felt a sense of relief that his mask of self-reliance was gone.
He was ready to deal with life and being a prisoner provided him with an opportunity to study and read. He said he had never given himself a chance to learn prior to prison, and he enjoyed the process.
One of the misconceptions concerning prison life is that everyone is lifting weights and fighting, Clarett said.
"You do have a large percentage of people in prison trying to get their lives together," he said.
After taking advantage of a variety of classes in prison, Clarett was ready to take on a new life.
"After four years, I was released from prison. I went to Omaha, Nebraska to play football for two years," he said, going the fledgling United Football League, which ran from 2009 to 2012.
After leaving football, Clarett said he did motivational speaking for three years and worked in transportation and packaging to supply for his family.
He was able to then help create the Red Zone, a recovery program for adolescents and adults. Clarett also serves on the board of ARCHway Institute for Mental Health and Addictive Disorders.
Clarett said he is excited about helping others stay away from how he lived his life.
"Had I had the skills to cope with my depression and stress, I don't think I would have failed," he said, adding it is important to have the humility to ask for help.
Clarett opened his talk detailing how the brutal drug scourge is still affecting his life.
"I have a cousin who is being buried right now from an opioid overdose," he said.
Clarett was not paid for his talk to the students, but the Edgewood High School Students Against Drunk Driving organization raised funds to pay ARCHway Institute for Mental Health and Addictive Disorders $500 for the assembly.
The institute then gave $500 to the Opal House in Jefferson, said Dan Stuckey, ARCHway Institute chairman. He said his son created the group, which is now operating in seven states, after he recovered from a five-year battle with drugs.
Stuckey said they live in Ashtabula County part of the year and the organization has provided $75,000 in scholarships in the area through Glenbeigh in Rock Creek. The scholarships help those who can't afford drug rehabilitation pay for a one-month stay in a "sober-living facility" after completing treatment.
Edgewood High School Principal Michael Notar said the visit was possible thanks to Clarett, ARCHway and the Ashtabula County Prevention Coalition.
Clarett interacted with students, and adults, following the assembly even posing for pictures. The assembly included high school students through junior high.
"We're kind of excited to have this opportunity ... to have the kids hear this message," Notar said.