After leading the team to a 7-5 season in his first season at Ohio State, Tressel inserted the freshman Clarett into the lineup and the magic began.
But just as quickly as Clarett caught up and stripped the ball from Sean Taylor in the 2003 BCS National Championship Game, he was gone.
Clarett's checkered past includes a suspension from the NCAA, a lawsuit against the NFL, a failed NFL career and a three-year prison sentence. But just as his 2002 Buckeyes always seemed to pull victory from the jaws of defeat, Clarett is making himself a winner again, even if its not on the football field.
The Rise to Buckeye Immortality
Clarett burst onto the scene in the first game of his college football career with a 175-yard performance. The wins piled up as the powerful freshman back continued to pound defenses.
The wear and tear on the young Clarett began to add up as he missed time in a handful of games. But even without their offensive star the Buckeyes were able to finish the regular season undefeated.
In the 2003 BCS National Championship against the heavily-favored Miami Hurricanes, Clarett once again found himself in the spotlight. Despite being bottled up by the Hurricane defense, Clarett was able to make one of the most important plays in Ohio State football history.
With the Buckeyes leading 14-7 at the Hurricanes 6-yard line QB Craig Krenzel threw toward the end zone. The ball was intercepted by Taylor, who raced up the left sideline. It looked like Taylor might have a chance to score, until the Buckeyes' freshman running back appeared.
Instead of just shoving Taylor out-of-bounds, Clarett ripped at the ball and gained possession before he and Taylor fell to the ground.
The strip allowed the Buckeyes to retain the ball and Mike Nugent added a field goal to extend the lead to 17-7. After Miami came back and tied the score and the game got into a second overtime, Clarett scored a go-ahead TD to make the score 34-27. One last defensive stand by the Buckeyes' defense sealed the win and Clarett's clutch play in the history of Ohio State football.
The Fall from Grace
After the national championship Clarett didn't fade from the spotlight. Instead he remained in the spotlight for years, but for all the wrong reasons.
Clarett never stepped onto the Ohio Stadium turf as a member of the Ohio State Buckeyes' football team. He was suspended by the team while the NCAA and the university investigated several possible violations committed by Clarett.
As a result of what investigators found, impermissible benefits, preferential treatment and violations of the ethical-conduct bylaw, Clarett was suspended for his sophomore season.
Clarett's Attempt to make the NFL
Clarett decided to sue the NFL so he could enter the draft a year early. But he lost the suit and was forced to sit out another year.
When the 2005 NFL draft rolled around Clarett was two years removed from playing football and was not in good shape. Despite an abysmal performance at the combine, Clarett was chosen by the Broncos in the third round.
Clarett never stepped onto the field for an NFL game.
Hitting Rock Bottom
Clarett's life continued to trend in the wrong direction after he was cut by the Broncos. He was arrested in August of 2006 for refusing to pull over for a traffic violation. He resisted arrest and was found to have had guns in his car.
He later plead guilty to that charge and another charge of armed robbery and was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.
Taking Back His Image
From Deadspin's excerpt of Clarett's book:
I don't want people to say "Don't be like Maurice Clarett." In fact, I want the opposite. I want people to see me now and say they want to be like me. And I'm working every day to earn that.
In prison Clarett began reading and writing. He started to find a purpose for his life, a direction he needed to go in. When he got out of prison he even went back to Ohio State and enrolled in classes.
Now he has begun sharing his message about redemption and trying to become a positive example for younger kids.
In his journey he has also found a new sport, rugby.
Clarett is now trying to work his way onto the U.S. Olympic rugby team for the 2016 Olympics. One thing is for sure, Clarett has the athletic ability to achieve the goal. Paul Holmes, the director of Tiger Rugby and Clarett's new trainer, says "the stuff he is doing in the gym, it's just ridiculous."
As an Ohio State fan, I hope Clarett makes it. Sure, he left a black eye on the Buckeyes' football program, but he is working to change and he should have to support of Buckeye nation. Even if he is still talking about how he made more money at Ohio State than he did in the UFL. Maybe opening up is just another step on his path to redemption.
USA Today wrote that for Clarett to make the 2016 Olympics he will "have to show the kind of incredible flashes in his new sport that he did as a freshman running back at Ohio State."
I will never bet against a focused Clarett and I bet there are many former Big Ten linebackers that would agree.