In an alternate universe, Maurice Clarett may have been one of the most prolific running backs to hit the NFL. As it were, he will have to settle for making a name for himself as a rugby player at the 2016 Olympics.
RugbyMag (h/t Larry Brown Sports, Lost Letterman) reports that the 29-year old has joined Tiger Rugby Olympic Development Program in Columbus, Ohio, with the hopes of making the 2016 Rugby Olympic team.
Director Paul Holmes seems to think Clarett has what it takes to actually make the team. He offered, "He’s ridiculous. That’s all I can say. His footwork is phenomenal. He’s nowhere near conditioned for rugby, but that will come…The stuff he’s doing in the gym right now, he’s just ridiculous."
We could continue with all the necessary sentimentality a story like this deserves. Instead, it would help to recap where Clarett once was to where he is now as an Olympic hopeful.
Clarett came to Ohio State in 2002 with tremendous expectations and delivered in his freshman season, rushing for 1,237 yards and 18 touchdowns.
A 2012 Deadpsin report that excerpts a portion of Monte Burke's book, "4th and Goal: One Man's Quest to Recapture His Dream," does a fine job summing up where things went wrong for Clarett.
While he was always a dominant player on the field, this was a kid who "was arrested multiple times before he was 14 years old, mainly, he says, because he was trying to impress the older kids."
From there, trouble managed to usurp a promising athletic career.
Clarett was suspended from the team for receiving what were deemed "improper benefits." He also falsely alleged that $10,000 worth of goods had been stolen from him. (He later pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of failure to aid a law enforcement official.) Clarett tried to enter the NFL Draft. But by NFL rules, a player had to be at least three years out of high school to become eligible. He sued. His case eventually went to the Supreme Court. He lost.
The next two years were lost in a fog of drug and alcohol use.
An important aspect of the Deadspin report is most of this information comes from Clarett himself, as he continues to work as a motivational speaker, helping others to stay clear of the path he carved for himself.
Over a decade after being a highly-coveted running back, Clarett is a humbled athlete trying to make a new start in an unfamiliar sport.
Holmes and Tiger Rugby coach James Walker are confident Clarett's past is indeed just that, well behind him.
“We hit up a few guys whose opinion we value in Columbus,” said Walker. “We’ve been assured by people that we trust that he’s a different person, that he’s found himself. And I believe in giving him a shot.”
“I think the big thing with Maurice is the maturity that’s beyond a lot of other guys, just because of the life experience he’s gone through, and I think he’s learned to look at the bigger picture in life,” added Holmes.
Walker points out that there have been a few crossover athletes before; some have failed and others excelled.
The ones who fail do so because of the lack of "financial gratification" in the sport. Clarett has guaranteed money and fame are the furthest things from his mind at the moment.
For him, it's about redemption.
From what it sounds like, Clarett still has his footwork and athleticism, but only needs to shake off the rust that might hamper his endurance.
From there, it's all about how much he wants to complete his comeback via the international stage. His coaches and rugby officials around him seemed to be sold on the remarkable transformation. That's enough for me to hope it all works out for the renewed Clarett.
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