Maurice Clarett describes himself as “just a man with hopes and dreams.” He is spending every day of his life transforming his dreams into a new reality for other people.
The former star running back, who led the Ohio State Buckeyes to a national football championship in 2002, now knows about transformation. He was at the top of the college football world when he broke the rules and then broke the law. After unsuccessfully challenging the NFL eligibility rules, and getting in trouble on campus for rules violations and accusations of theft, he eventually landed in prison on gun and robbery charges.
Clarett says after football was taken away from him, he reverted to life on the streets and a life of crime.
“You know, football provides a tremendous amount of infrastructure. A lot of these kids are 18-year-olds who have been playing football or chasing the dream for years,” he told Colleen Marshall. “And, then they get to a platform that that’s all they have and you take it away now you are dealing with that kid who has not been developed.”
Clarett freely admits he struggled with drugs and alcohol and has been treated for mental health problems. But, he is also self-reflective and very aware of the mistakes he made along the way.
Surprisingly, he said the best thing that ever happened to him was prison, where he spent time thinking, reflecting and learning. He took classes in psycho-social awareness, in business and entrepreneurship, and spent a lot of time assessing how he can best “add value to the world.”
After prison, he agreed to speak to young football players at a conference and sat-in on a break out session in behavioral counseling. He found his calling.
“We talked about those things in prison,” he said, and it helped him grow. “I had no idea it could be a career.”
Clarett founded the “Red Zone”, providing counseling and housing services for adults struggling with addiction, as well as behavioral services for adolescents, and even summer camps to keep kids out of trouble.
He calls it the Red Zone because, “on defense, if something important happens you have to stop the opposing team in the red zone, and on offense, you have to score from the red zone. Typically, the people who come within our organization or our agency either from a mental health or a drug and alcohol background. You are sort of in the red zone of your life. At one time or another, I’ve been in the red zone of my life.”
Clarett now employs 150 people, including counselors and social workers, and has 1500 clients at his Red Zone agencies in Youngstown and Columbus. He tells me Buckeye fans were pulling for him when he was in prison. The letters of encouragement he received gave him hope.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have that support from Buckeye Nation,” said Clarett. “I literally wouldn’t, and I’m thankful for them. Thankful, and grateful to be in this space.”