VERSAILLES — If the Versailles Tigers football team fails in its quest for a state championship in 2015, it won’t be for lack of motivation.
On Thursday evening, Versailles Christian Church hosted former Ohio State University running back Maurice Clarett to speak to Versailles players, cheerleaders and coaches.
Before the program, a meal was held in the church basement, where students ate chicken, sloppy joes, baked beans and ice cream at tables bedecked with black and orange tablecloths.
Afterwards, the attendees assembled in the church sanctuary to hear the former college player and National Football League draftee.
Speaking to the crowd, Clarett promised, “I won’t use locker room language,” which brought a burst of laughter from the group.
Clarett, 31, was raised in Youngstown, Ohio, and spoke about his rough upbringing, which included exposure to drugs and violence at an early age.
Playing football was a way in which he sought to escape his bad circumstances, but the game itself presented more temptations, ones which Clarett admits he was not ready to handle.
“I was a gangster playing football — that’s what I was in my own mind,” he said.
Clarett burst onto the collegiate football scene as a freshman, rushing for 1,237 yards and scoring 18 touchdowns during the regular season in 2002. He scored the winning touchdown for the Buckeyes in the double-overtime National Championship game versus the Miami Hurricanes on Jan. 3, 2003.
A series of missteps by Clarett, however, caused the university to suspend him for the 2003 season. He moved to Los Angeles and sought to enter the N.F.L. draft.
Describing himself as a “little boy,” Clarett said, “I never corrected my behavior when football was taken away. I smoked and drank all my problems away.”
Clarett was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the third round of the 2005 N.F.L. draft.
“Upon being drafted I felt two things. One, I was very proud to get a chance to go to the N.F.L. Also, I was very nervous. A lot of guys in the N.F.L. are very talented athletically, but they’re still little kids,” he said.
Out of shape and unwilling to accept help from the team, the Broncos released Clarett just prior to the 2005 regular season. He soon became involved in drug trafficking, leading to a series of run-ins with law enforcement.
In 2006, he was arrested after a police pursuit, and ended up serving 3.5 years in prison, before being released in 2010.
Clarett says he began to reevaluate his life while incarcerated and eventually professed faith in Jesus Christ in June 2011.
“God intercepted me in August 2006,” he said. “He kept me from possibly killing someone or ending up dead.”
As for mistakes, both past and present, Clarett says the biggest thing is to “own it.”
“We all make mistakes,” he said. “The important thing is not repeating it, not making it an ongoing thing, moving forward.”
Clarett’s wife Ashley, and nine-year-old daughter Jayden accompanied him to the program. He is currently involved in launching business ventures and has been very active traveling around the country to give speeches to various groups.
Versailles Head Football Coach Adam Miller said his players were enthusiastic about having Clarett speak and expressed his thanks to the church for hosting the event.
“This is a great testament of support from the community,” said Miller. “It’s a great message for these guys to hear and its a team-building thing for us, getting to hang outside of practice.”
This is the second year that Versailles Christian Church has brought the team to hear a sports speaker. In 2014, the church had University of Illinois quarterback Nate Scheelhaase speak to the team.
Pastor Dennis J. Wheeler explained the church’s reasons for hosting the event.
“This is a way to reach out to the community, to let them know we care,” he said. “When they come here and know we care, if they have an issue or a problem, they know they can come here and talk to us. We want them to know that we’re here for them no matter what.”
Wheeler says he hopes the church will continue to stage the program for years to come.
Erik Martin may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 937-569-4314.