On Tuesday, former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett and former coach Jim Tressel joined a media conference call to discuss Youngstown Boys, an upcoming 30 for 30 documentary that explores class and power dynamics in college sports through the parallel, interconnected journeys of the one-time dynamic running back and former elite head coach.
Youngstown Boys, directed by Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, will premiere on Saturday, December 14, at 9 p.m. ET after the Heisman Trophy Presentation on ESPN. Full press release
Q. This question is both for Maurice and Jim. I’m certain that you guys have seen the film prior to this conversation. What are your impressions? What are your feelings about how it came out?
MAURICE CLARETT: Well, to me I was very pleased about it, very pleased as to what was displayed. I was happier even understanding I believe the film kind of transcends me and Coach Tressel.
I think it has a lot of things that people can relate to, be it from a coach’s standpoint, be it from just a young guy coming from the NFC standpoint, understanding the relationship between a father and a son, a role model, understanding ignorance, understanding ambition, understanding and allowing yourself to be able to do something great, handling adversity, understanding how drugs and alcohol played a role in my ‑‑ well, mine individually, but also having somebody in your corner who kind of never gives up on you and will still have a hand out for you after everything you’ve been through.
I wouldn’t care if you were a reporter, I wouldn’t care if you were a large business owner, the richest man in the world down to the poorest guy. I think inside those things, everybody can kind of find something out of it. But I just haven’t had the life that kind of matched up to what it was I was presumed I would have, and they were able to tie Coach Tressel in. So in that regards I was happy with it.
JIM TRESSEL: Yeah, I would say that I thought when Maurice and Jeff and Mike came to me that I was going to just be giving them some sidebar discussion and so forth, and little did I know the dual approach, so I’m humbled and flattered that they would do that.
I think when asked about being able to take part in express what all Maurice has been through and so forth, it was what I was hoping all along, was that Maurice Clarett can be anything he would like to be. He’s got so much to offer this world, and my hope, and we use that word hope a lot, was that he would just do that.
This week as we’re remembering Nelson Mandela and all that, I saw a quote that really spoke to me here in the last day or two in regards to Maurice and the film, and it said, “Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope he will rise even in the end.”
So to me this story is about a young man, football, a relationship with his coaches, his teammates, tough times, but hanging on to hope. I’m anxious to see what he does in the next 50 years of his life. I don’t know if I’ll be there for all of it, but I’m anxious to see what he does with the rest of his life to make a difference in other people’s lives.
Q. This is basically for Maurice. I just wonder, was it cathartic to open up, or now that you’ve seen your whole life kind of put together, is it hard to look at, or just how was that?
MAURICE CLARETT: I kind of got past that point. Initially I didn’t want to do anything with the film. I mean, because you’re not sure if the people involved will be responsible with the information that you give them, seeing as it’s about your life. But after watching the body of work that they did with “The Two Escobars” and after watching the things that they sort of did with us, I loved the film from an artistic standpoint. And just looking at it from that standpoint, I was just kind of convinced after just meeting them and getting a feel over having a basic conversation, I had been to prison, so you can kind of think on people’s intentions or subtleties so much.
But after having an initial meeting with them and feeling for them, I understood that their intentions were kind of like pure and free, and they’re kind of like in their own little world, kind of like in their own little space. I don’t call it weird to say they’re kind of free just to kind of independently do what they want to sort of, so that kind of attracted me to it.
But actually seeing everything, it was things that really took place in my life. It was things that really happened, some of the stuff you’re proud about, some of the stuff you’re not, but it’s the truth of what took place. We started to realize that I was once in that place, and I’ll say when I was in college and I was just confused, I had no idea what to do. I mean, I was in a place where I had to make decisions that would basically affect the rest of my life, and I was making them all based upon emotions, and these times would very seriously affect my future, but when you realize you have a chance to express yourself and express your life and see how you navigated through the whole thing, not navigating like you would like to at all times but knowing that the story can potentially help more people and actually getting out here and speaking to them and meeting people, and seeing that people draw inspiration from you or hope from you or things like that, you start feeling responsible to bring more out of yourself.
I had a bunch of people in my corner throughout the process that made it easier. So all in all, it didn’t hurt our ‑‑ initially it was hard, but after a while you kind of got used to it or you kind of got comfortable with the people that was receiving information. And based upon specifically the question, when I kind of sat down and were talking to them you could kind of see where their intentions were at. They weren’t just set on just slamming somebody. They were just telling an independent story saying, hey, this is kind of what took place, this is what really went on, and then the people who will view it can kind of take what they take from it.
Q. Maurice, are you aware of the emotional connection people from Youngstown have with you and your journey and all the steps you’ve taken, both good and bad?
MAURICE CLARETT: I’m very aware because I go back often. The spirit inside of what I do or the motivation is kind of like carrying the same spirit I have back there.
I don’t know, it’s like coming up, I used to watch Coach Tressel, and I remember Ray Isaac and I remember Tamron Smith, I remember Sean Patton, and I remember all those guys, and I remember the origination of why I fell in love with the city, the spirit, the struggle, the pain. I fell in love with all that, and all that became eternalized and became and put me to who I was. Even when I was in prison I kind of channeled that same spirit, the same like warrior against‑all‑odds type of thing to be who I was. And the communication with people from back there, saying that people have a lot of pride, people who wish they could be in better situations, people who root for me, people who just want me to go further and be further, the same way they do with Coach Tressel.
You can go back and somebody is going to tell you a story like he coached at Youngstown State yesterday, but it’s like the national impact or the impact that you carry yourself from that area on to more people, but just me being connected, be seeing people and be feeling them, be just understanding that Coach Tressel and myself were just two heroes, so to speak, from that area. I don’t know, it means a lot to me. It means a lot to have that emotional connection or to have people who support you.
In Youngstown I felt everybody had supported me through the ups and downs, it didn’t matter, because of course we’re so used to seeing some of the extremely difficult things, being with the crowd, with the murder and so many different cases, used to seeing people in adverse situations or tumultuous situations, so to speak.
But more than everything, man, the whole city continued to support me when I was down. I still had friends back home who picked me up and still had that support.
I mean, I was even honored or I thought it was cool when they decided that they were calling the film “Youngstown Boys”. It was kind of like me paying homage to my hometown basically, just like kind of like putting us on the map on a national scale.
Q. Maurice, the film spends quite a bit of time looking at the interview you did talking about the potential of being a one‑and‑done and the fan reaction, the media reaction to that. Do you think of the time since, and does it seem like the general attitude towards college players has changed among fans in particular? Does it seem that today when you play people are more sympathetic to that situation that these players find themselves in?
MAURICE CLARETT: I don’t know. In all honesty, I don’t really kind of keep up with the college game or kind of what people go through. I kind of hear bits here and there just about people, but to be honest I don’t keep up with it that much or I’m not into the response of people. Nothing against college players but just through how I live myself, I don’t keep up with it that much or understand what another player may go through all the time.
Q. Coach Tressel and Maurice, as both of you looked at this point in your lives playing before you on the small screen, were there any moments during the film that you looked at situations and you thought, gosh, I wish I could have had that moment back, and so I would do it differently? I’m curious to know did you see any of those moments during the film, and if so, can you share those with us? And perhaps how would you have approached those situations differently?
JIM TRESSEL: Well, I think any time that you look back on your past, when things went the way you’d planned them and hoped for them, you know, there’s a sense of satisfaction, and there was some of that in the film. And then when you look back and you see things that didn’t go the way you had hoped for or planned for, you always ask yourself, I wonder what it is I could have done at a given time, at a given moment to have either not gotten into the situation that resulted or to have reacted better to a situation that had occurred.
I think that’s part of life, and you spend a certain amount of time evaluating that, and then hopefully what you do very quickly is move forward as to what you’re going to have learned from it, and to me that’s one of the great things about the movie is that the folks, Jeff and Mike, didn’t sugar‑coat any of the things that happened and the difficult moments, the difficult decisions, but they also have depicted very well what Maurice has in mind as a difference maker for the rest of his life, the impact that he wants to make on others, the good that he wants to do for young people and old people alike.
You immediately in my mind evaluate what you could have done better and work hard to do better down the road.
MAURICE CLARETT: Pretty much you can kind of piggy‑back on him. I’d tell everybody the same thing. Just in one instance, like I say, you can’t make ‑‑ everything you do when you do it, it makes sense at the time. You know what I’m saying?
But if I could do one thing over, I wish that I could have better control of my emotions when I was younger. I’m pretty sure everybody wishes they could. But I just understand how many decisions were made based upon emotion and how they affected me throughout my life. But I’m pretty sure that everybody on the phone call, including coach when he was younger, you wish you have better control over your emotions or just have a better understanding of what’s taken place and then you can handle the situation responsibly. But then again, I probably wouldn’t be in this position making this film if I did, to go through and recover from it, to get back to where I’m at right now.
Q. Having covered you guys when Maurice was there and talking to you since then, I think the way you went about Maurice was very fatherly, took a very fatherly approach to coaching him both on and off the field. I think as parents, though, sometimes when our kids do things and you talk to them and they do something else and you still talk to them about it, there’s a level of frustration that you get as a parent. Did you ever get frustrated trying to handle a young Maurice or trying to shepherd him into this direction or that direction or scratch your head thinking, this decision is pretty easy; why isn’t he making it?
JIM TRESSEL: Well, frustrated is an extreme word, I think, in some ways. You get disappointed at times. You get concerned. Then you rethink how you’d like to get something across.
I think Maurice wouldn’t be the only young person or your only child that that were those moments of disappointment, but I always tried to shower those moments of disappointment hoping that they wouldn’t lead into frustration that would maybe allow me to err in what we would do going forward. I tried to shower them with hope in that if we could just keep working on the things that we believed in, keep trying to talk about the things that we think are the way to do things and the way to face things and approach things, if you just keep pounding it, I would tell my coaches often that you can’t get frustrated if your guys don’t get it all figured out in the four years you have them or the three years or the one year or whatever it happens to be. But you hope you plant the seeds of information and wisdom and love and all the rest so that at the end of the day that showering of hope and that planting of seeds will allow someone to reach their potential.
And to me that’s what’s exciting about this film is that while it’s not the path that any of us would have written or the script any of us would have written, what’s exciting is what lies ahead for this young guy. I’m just excited to watch all the extraordinary things he does down the road.
Q. My question is for Jim. Could you tell us a little bit more about your role at the University of Akron today, what you’re doing and what lies down the road for yourself? Do you see yourself doing University administration? Do you think you’ll get back into coaching? And if you do have a desire to go back into coaching, what’s your desire to do down the road?
JIM TRESSEL: Well, right now at the University of Akron I’m very involved in much of the same things I was doing as a coach: Recruiting and advising and counseling, preparing young people for their future, helping them get placed in their future, being there for them as a mentor and giving them guidance and so forth. It’s a little bit exhausting quite honestly at the University level. I used to only have 100 guys and now I’ve got about 26,000 students. So I’ve enjoyed doing this here at the University of Akron because it’s exactly what we did for years and years on the football field.
Honestly, you miss some of that process of getting ready for a big game and squaring off on the sideline, and it really didn’t matter what size sideline. It didn’t matter if it was 106,000 people in Ohio Stadium or 20,000 people at Stambaugh Stadium at Youngstown State. Those were fun things to do.
One thing I tried to preach to our guys is that you keep your focus on the moment and don’t daydream about what lies ahead, because if you do, you have a chance to not reach your potential where you are. Quite honestly I haven’t given getting back into coaching any thought. I’m working hard doing what I’m doing here.
I’ve enjoyed having a little more time, quite honestly, to go watch some of my guys play. I just was in New York to see the Jets and the Raiders, and we had four of our former players. I had a chance to get over to Michigan State‑Purdue to see 11 of my former coaches coach against each other. So I’ve enjoyed being a proud papa in some ways, and I’ve enjoyed being focused on the students here at the University of Akron.
Q. Maurice, I’m just curious, your mom made a pretty strong statement in the film about she’s so grateful that you’re still alive. I’m just wondering if you could maybe ‑‑ do you feel that maybe if you hadn’t had these tough times and gone to prison that maybe this wouldn’t have turned out this way?
MAURICE CLARETT: I don’t know. I’m not happy I went to prison, but I believe my mother is referring to just the life I was living. When you’re full‑fledged in the street day in and day out and this is the life you’re living, and my mother having two brothers, one who had been to prison, having probably all of my cousins who have been to either state or federal prison, she could kind of see how the story of having friends in our neighborhood, murder at a young age, guys living in the street shot down or killed or they ended up doing a killing and ended up in jail in some capacity.
She may be speaking from that standpoint because my mother did see the disconnection on my face. She did see me getting out without any purpose. She did see the nonsense, the hurt, the heckles through the streets about what I was doing, so she’s probably thinking to herself in that way, hey, I’m glad he’s alive just because ‑‑ so he could be in a definitely different situation. Either I could be dead or I could be in jail for the rest of my life for some of the stuff that I was doing.
But to get through all that, to go through it and to be where I’m at, I just appreciate a lot more ‑‑ I’m in Times Square today walking around. I can’t say five or six years I could have just appreciated walking around and seeing people, the different nationalities, just the different culture, just enjoying the snow outside and going to the toy store and seeing the different things. But the struggle or the pain or stuff like that helps you appreciate more. It helps you connect with life on a deeper level outside of the titles or the labels and the accolades and stuff like that. I’m not going to lie to you; that’s fun, that’s fun to do, but sometimes you get to a spiritual place where you’re happy to be alive, happy to wake up, happy to walk outside, happy to make people smile.
Those things right there really sing to the tune of where I’m at. Even though I like to enjoy myself and have fun like everybody else, sometimes I’m just happy to be alive. And I would say what she had been through or seen me going through personally that she’s just happy that I’m alive, you know what I’m saying, because I could be dead.
Q. I don’t know if you believe like Jim Tressel does you don’t know what’s down the road, but do you get more enjoyment working with young people now or with maybe like older guys?
MAURICE CLARETT: All people. People are people, it doesn’t matter the age. Problems are problems. Some people have different trials at different moments in life. You have some people when they get older they have trivial problems that you may have faced when you were a teenager. You have some kids who have traumatic problems, like one thing that pops off the top of my head, you have those kids in Chicago trying to kill each other and having grown men having gang wars in the streets. Those are very serious issues.
I honestly think that you have kids who have posttraumatic stress disorder from going through those traumatic experiences in the streets; you know what I’m saying. So people are people and problems are problems, it doesn’t matter if they’re older, doesn’t matter if they’re younger. I see it everywhere I go; it doesn’t matter if somebody is older or younger, I connect with them on some level, just based upon seeing so much and experiencing so much and coming through on the other side, so much that people just listen.
There’s no greater ‑‑ I will say outside of fulfilling or pleasing your family, there’s nothing greater than when you look at somebody and you’re speaking and you’re connecting with them and their eyes are talking to you, like hey, I want to listen to what you have to say or I’m asking a question to you and I know that inside the question that they have been paying attention to what I’ve been saying. They just kind of take that information, they go off and they send you a text message later on and say, hey, I applied what you said or I applied what you taught me, and it served some benefit towards helping me where I’m at in my life right now.
Q. Obviously with the premise of the movie, even with such a successful coaching career on the field, you are for many inevitably linked to Maurice and then Terrelle Pryor. What are your feelings about that?
JIM TRESSEL: Oh, my feelings are wonderful about that. Those are two special young men in my life, two young men that I love very deeply. Just like any family members, every single part of what you go through isn’t wonderful, but because you love one another, you keep working on things and you keep making sure that you’re there for one another.
I read something the other day in quiet time, which I related a little bit to the upcoming film and so forth, I think it was in Acts, that says, “To err is human; to forgive is divine.” I think if you really have a relationship that’s based on love, regardless of what scenarios you happen to go through, there’s nothing that can strain that relationship that you’ll ever allow to get in between you.
Q. One of the interesting themes that I recognized in the film was the power of forgiveness, the power of really reconciling your past. It’s not that often when we go through troubled times that we’re really able to come to terms with our past. I noticed for you, Maurice, you now have a new relationship with Coach Tressel and you’re back at Ohio State taking courses. I’ve also noticed on social media that you’ve been really showing a lot of pride in Ohio State University. For you I was wondering if you could just share what your current relationship is with Coach Tressel and your relationship with the University and perhaps the athletic department. And then for coach, if you could just talk about the nature of your relationship with Maurice.
MAURICE CLARETT: Well, my relationship with Ohio State is cool. I have been back down there this spring. I was down there when I first got out of prison, and I had taken a couple courses and then I went to Omaha for a couple years. But now to this day, I went back down there this spring. I was down there working with Boom Herron and Beanie Wells, and we were doing a bunch of running back drills, got a chance to go inside the weight room, seeing like the young guys, Carlos and Braxton and a lot of those young guys, Roby, and had a chance to do some drills with them this off‑season.
But when the fall came back around, I didn’t want to be around all the media attention or be some sort of distraction to what it was they was doing. But a lot of those young guys, they know my number. I call them, I tease them, I text Carlos back and forth, so for the most part it’s cool.
But with me and Coach Tressel, I think it’s kind of self‑explanatory. I guess I’m the same way with anybody who has had any influence in my life. They probably get mad at me for asking so many questions or wanting to be involved with them so much, because I know the amount of influence or the connection I have with basically older male figures.
So I think you see towards the end of the film how my connection or my pride or my ego got in the way of me being involved with my father, and I think on some subconscious level I maybe search that or seek that out from older men, and it’s been that way ever since seeing Coach Tressel, obviously Mr. Butch, and just pretty much anybody else. I think every young man needs some sort of male role model, leader or father figure in his life or somebody to guide him obviously in some area or territory that he’s maybe working towards or that he doesn’t understand or that he wants. I think they’ll subconsciously kind of gravitate towards that.
That’s life. I mean, you search and grab a hold to things or to people to kind of help you elevate or get to a level that you may want to get to in different areas of your life. You kind of pull on them and ask questions and things like that.
And with Coach Tressel, at 18 when you’re young and your years are being shaped and you get a chance to be directly across from somebody who you looked at when you was a little kid who was a hero to the area, when you get a chance to ask this person questions and they actually care about it and they give you information to help you improve your life, it’s special.
And then to have the disconnect over those years and then to reconnect again, of course you’re going to take work every chance you get to try to work with them, be around them, stand next to them, just because it’s fun, it’s cool, and obviously Coach Tressel, especially when you live in Ohio, it’s not a bad thing. But it’s him. He knows how I feel about him, and he’s just always fun to be around.
Like we was at the Hilton the other day and watched the game. Sometimes you get next to him and he just speaks so big sometimes, you know what I’m saying, that you leave and scratch your head like man, what did this man just say to me. It’s that process that he’s giving you something that you need to digest, but he also has some wisdom to help you just evolve or be a better person in your life because you understand that reputation, actually not with yourself but amongst your peers, just somebody you can lean on and talk to.
JIM TRESSEL: Yeah, I think if you asked me to define our relationship, I think there’s deep respect and compassion and concern and love. We’re similar in some ways. We get on the phone a little bit, and Maurice talks so fast and never lets me get a word in edgewise, and I like to talk a little bit, too, and I like to give him my two cents. We have a lot of fun. I think we understand one another. I think we both know neither of us are perfect, and we have a tremendous passion to constantly improve and to constantly try to find where it is we’ll make a difference in other people’s lives. We’re both passionate competitors, and I think we just enjoy one another’s company, and we appreciate one another’s love that has transcended some rocky times.
But at the end of the day, I know this: I could count on Maurice, and I think he knows for sure he could count on me.
Q. My question is for Maurice. Do you think that your story and perhaps the film will kind of help inspire change within the NCAA down the line, that maybe perhaps one day players will get paid and that players will have a chance to leave early and go to the NFL or the NBA if they so choose to? Do you think your film actually might inspire others to work towards making that happen perhaps?
MAURICE CLARETT: I don’t know. I didn’t make the film for it to be a stage for young guys to get paid. That’s probably a different forum, a different conversation. Outside of getting paid, I think it’s just a lot of things that you can do to help student athletes just as people, and not so much look at them just as kids who are out on the football field.
I know often times their development as a person, some being from the backgrounds that they’re coming from or being from the cultures that they’re coming from, and this is not just an urban thing but it’s also reached suburban American, but just basically to make better individuals. I think paying players or compensating them is a totally different conversation, and you have people who are much smarter than me who can have a better conversation with you about that.
I’m not sure I’m allowed to chime in whether they ever did have a conversation, but with me I didn’t make it for that reason or I don’t advocate or go against anything like that, but if the NCAA would sit down with me, I could figure out a whole lot of ways to help these guys who seem to drive so much business toward the school just because I see a lot of guys who don’t make it to the NFL who come out of it at the end and they’re struggling with life. And even with the guys who do happen to go to the NFL and their careers are done, I see those guys struggle. But like with them, even now these days in modern‑day America, I think Coach Tressel or any coach across America, they’ll pretty much say the same thing. There’s a lot you can do for these guys and the approach in helping them develop as people. I care more about those things than anything else. I know you can pay these guys, but if you pay them and then you throw them out to the world or they don’t know how to operate or take care of themselves, what’s the point or what’s the meaning. It’s like you’re just putting a Band‑Aid on the situation.
But I’m just like prepare these guys better for life, but that’s a bigger conversation in an entirely different forum.
Q. Most of us all go through life and gain wisdom and get smarter as we get older. It hasn’t been that long since you were at Ohio State, 10 years or so. Seems like in those 10 years, though, you’ve really matured and grown quite a bit in that way. If you had the wisdom or at least even a percentage of the wisdom that you have now, does your story end differently at Ohio State than it did?
MAURICE CLARETT: I mean, of course I think everybody would believe that, but that’s not the fact of the matter. I don’t know. Decisions aren’t made at those times ‑‑ like I said, I made a bunch of decisions at the time just because that was the level of thinking that I had. I was mature athletically, but that put me in a lot of spaces that maybe my character or other sides of who Maurice Clarett could sustain, you know what I’m saying. And potentially I think that those assisted me in putting myself in even worse circumstances.
But it is what it is and it was what it was. Like I say, do I wish I could do anything differently? The only thing I wish I could do different at this point is have the courage to tell my father or create a relationship with him, but he’s no longer here.
But everything else throughout the film, be it good or be it bad, I can apologize to some of the people I committed harm to or brought destruction, but anything other than that, it made perfect sense. When you look at it from a higher level of understanding, when you’re going through this stuff and when you’re doing it, it makes sense at the time. You can’t do anything else.
Even now I don’t even know if I would play football now if I had the mindset I have now. You need to make decisions to either beat somebody or to hit them with my body. Kind of like that animal nature or the animalistic side of me caused me just to run into people and not care about my body or think I was some tough guy.
I think you could even parallel the same thing ‑‑ Mike Tyson one time, he had lost to a guy, and after he lost to him, he walked up to him, and he said, hey, man, this sport isn’t for me. I still love the sport of boxing, but I don’t like hitting nobody no more, you know what I’m saying, and it was based on him educating himself and him just not seeing any point or just even out of life not beating up on somebody’s head or having that much anger. I don’t have anger towards anybody. I used to have anger towards a lot of things when I was younger, and I’d just channel it and I’d channel all the energy or channel that toughness or that pain and I just deliver it onto people.
It was a personal competition for me just to beat on people or to act like I was tougher, but I don’t care about that no more. I can’t even say I would be the same football player.