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Maurice Clarett may be the best college football player to never play a down in the NFL. Clarett burst onto the college football scene as a freshman at Ohio State University as he became the first freshman to start at running back at the school in more than 70 years. After a spectacular first season, he was never heard from again until he went to prison.

Maurice Clarett at Ohio State

As a freshman, Maurice Clarett played a major role in helping Ohio State win the national title in 2002 season. He rushed for 1,237 yards and finished with 18 touchdowns that year. It was his 5-yard touchdown run in the second overtime that gave the Buckeyes a 31-24 victory over the University of Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. It was also the last time Clarett touched a football for the Buckeyes.

During the 2003 academic year, Clarett was involved in several incidents at Ohio State University that resulted in him getting suspended for a year. Athletic Director Andy Geiger cited 14 violations of the NCAA’s ethical conduct bylaws and two violations of Clarett’s receiving preferential treatment or benefits. Clarett eventually withdrew from the school.

Clarett hoped to enter the 2004 NFL draft, but a league rule stated a player must be three years removed from playing in the NFL. He challenged the league’s ruling and was denied. In 2005, the Denver Broncos selected Clarett in the third round of the draft but waived him before the season began.

Clarett winds up in prison

In September of 2006, Clarett struck a deal with prosecutors on robbery and concealed weapons charges. His deal allowed him to be released after 3.5 years when he would be all of 26 years old. “It’s in a range that will allow him to get his life back together after his release,” Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said then.

At his hearing, Clarett was asked if he had anything to say. “I’d like to apologize for my behavior, and I accept the time that was given to me,” he said.

One of Clarett’s attorneys, Michael Hoague described the rise and fall of his client.  “He was up here,” Hoague said, raising his arm up to eye level. “He got down here,” he said, lowering his arm to his waist. “And he’s going to be back up here again.”

After serving more than three years in prison, Clarett was released and re-enrolled at Ohio State University.

Life after football and prison

After his release from football, Maurice Clarett had a brief stint with the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League, but it was what happened while in prison that helped get Clarett’s life back on track.

While in prison, Clarett blogged about his life. Those reflections led to bigger and better things for him as he now travels the country telling his story. He’s hoping to change the lives of others. He doesn’t want anyone to make the same mistakes he did. Clarett has become one of the most celebrated speakers in the country.

“I don’t care who you are, nobody plans to go to prison,” Clarett said. “When you’re in prison it’s like ‘Hey, how did this thing become what it is?’ At that point, you begin to assess your behavior or assess your decision-making, and you correct it. You become self-aware, you set some good new goals and you create new paths. You realize you have to fix it.”