YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Maurice Clarett — former Warren Harding and Ohio State star running back — can certainly tell you about it. So can Will Mahone, a former Austintown Fitch standout who briefly played wide receiver at Notre Dame.
They can tell you about this: College is naturally stressful, but athletes experience even more pressure — and can sometimes crack.
The two former local stars who lost their high-profile athletic opportunities spoke exclusively to WKBN to help others learn from their mistakes.
It comes at a time when four starting Youngstown State football players were suspended prior to the Penguins’ Dec. 17 national semifinal win at Eastern Washington, and will remain suspended for the National Championship on Jan. 7.
“You got a lot of pressure on you,” said Mahone, who left Notre Dame after being arrested in June 2014 for fighting at a party and resisting arrest. He eventually plead guilty to four misdemeanor charges and spent 10 days in jail. “I mean, for an 18 or 19-year-old kid — for what [universities] expect — you have to be very, very disciplined.”
“You understand you score touchdowns and that the university is big,” said Clarett, who was dismissed from Ohio State following the Buckeyes’ 2002 National Championship after becoming the center of a player-benefit scandal. “But you don’t understand your personal responsibility.”
Last Wednesday, YSU running back Martin Ruiz pleaded not guilty to carrying a concealed weapon and improper handling. Three other YSU players are also suspended from the game for failing an NCAA drug test.
Meanwhile, James Madison — the Penguins’ title game opponent — is having trouble too, as seven of its players are suspended from the contest.
Mahone said his problems simply stemmed from bad decisions.
“I just came across a lot of injuries,” he said. “And the freedom of being at school — partying and I guess not necessarily being around the wrong crowds, but doing the wrong things.
“Being away from my mom, being away from my support, I lost my track a little bit and it led to bad decisions.”
Clarett — who had numerous run-ins with the law and spent time in jail after leaving OSU — understands what that feels like as well.
“To be that guy who gives autographs,” he said, “or people ask you to take photos or things of that nature — it becomes surreal and you don’t often identify with anyone anymore because you’re a celebrity in your own space.”
Clarett said most athletes in the spotlight don’t realize how big they are until something happens.
Mahone noticed a common denominator about players who do well and stay on track.
“The guys that I see succeed and my friends that are in the [NFL] right now, they did a good job of staying the course and everything,” Mahone said. “Hats off to them, but it’s not for everyone.”
Mahone currently works in Austintown and is trying to go back to school to finish his degree. He actually attempted a return to football with YSU last spring before battling injuries and leaving the team.
Clarett runs The Red Zone in Youngstown, which offers counseling services and after-school programs for kids. He believes young athletes need to learn consequences and discipline at an early age.
“If you can get them when they’re 5, 6, 7, 8 [years-old] and create a different reality or different environment,” Clarett said, “you can show that football is just a tool or football is just a vehicle.”