Maurice Clarett's Last Call, Possibly, As a Free Man

ByTom Friend

Aug. 9, 2006 — -- On possibly his last night as a free man, Maurice Clarett was calling on the telephone. I hadn't seen him or heard from him in a year, not since the Denver Broncos kicked him to the curb, but I was on his list Tuesday night. Along with Jim Tressel and LeBron James and some arena football coach. His list of thank-yous.

I looked at the clock when he called, and it was just past 11 p.m. ET. He told me he was driving somewhere, and along the way his cell phone cut in and out. He wasn't loud or belligerent. Instead he seemed melancholy and possibly drunk.

Clarett was arrested near the home of a witness set to testify against him in a separate robbery case, the Franklin County prosecutor said.

He started in with his news: He was a daddy. His girlfriend, Ashley, had given birth to a baby girl on July 17 and he claimed it had changed his life. "F--- Ohio State, f--- winning the national championship, it's more cool having her,'' he was saying. He said he'd cry a lot when he held her, and that just the other day in his mom's house, he'd cried four times holding her the same afternoon. He said he'd do anything for that little girl, that he'd go to jail for 30 years for this little girl. It wasn't clear what he meant, although it's starting to get clearer now.

I asked him how he was, and he said he was growing up, taking responsibility for what he'd done. He admitted "money used to be everything'' to him and he said, "Look how cocky I used to be. Life lessons have put me on my ass.'' I'd heard this sort of rhetoric before, from almost every troubled athlete I'd ever interviewed, but then he got me. He got me when he said he wanted to dump his whole story on me, when he said "I haven't done s---. I have done nothing but f------ run a football. Don't confuse yourself. I've done nothing but run a f------ football. Don't try to make it bigger than it is.''

He started in then with his thank-yous. I had written a column in ESPN The Magazine last January, after his initial arrest on burglary charges, outlining his potential drinking problem, steroid problem and self-esteem problem. He said he'd hated that story, that he'd hated me, but he was calling now to thank me, for waking him up to reality. He said he'd been calling a lot of people that day, that he'd called Tressel -- the same coach he'd once accused of giving him cars and grades -- and thanked him, too.

Tressel had reached out to Clarett months before, having asked Buckeyes QB Troy Smith for Clarett's cell phone number. They had talked, and Tressel had offered to do all he could for him, and now -- late Tuesday night -- Clarett was saying, "Me and [Tressel] have become cool again. I was talking to Jim Tressel earlier, and said, 'Thank you for being real.' He's been real to me, and I've been real to myself. I don't run from nothing anymore.''

He said he'd also called his old high school buddy LeBron James that day -- who knows if it's true, considering LeBron's playing ball overseas -- and that there were more calls to make. It was almost midnight ET by then, but now Clarett was starting to ramble, starting to sound a little skittish, a little paranoid.

He wondered if someone was overhearing the conversation, if someone might be listening. Was he being followed?

Who knew Clarett had an assault rifle with him the whole time? Or a 9mm gun between his legs? Or that he had a hatchet? Who knew the next morning I'd wake up and hear he was under custody on alleged weapons charges, that he'd been Maced and tasered, that he'd been wearing a bulletproof vest, that he'd probably been wearing it as we spoke?

His attorney, Mike Hoague, came out Wednesday and said that Clarett has recently received death threats, verbal and written, and, suddenly, his pattern of behavior all seemed to make more sense. The people who know him say he's been alternately strong and unstable recently, that the stress of his court case and his baby girl and his uncertain future have him all over the emotional map.

Does someone really want to hurt him? Is someone bugging his phone? Or is he just delusional? Whichever, you've got to go back to last year, to the mess of Los Angeles.

After Ohio State booted him out of school, he went to L.A., where he befriended members of the rap community, manager types. They liked Clarett; he had an easy giggle, and a face they'd seen in the Fiesta Bowl end zone. He was their ticket to the world of sports, and they were his ticket to a lush lifestyle. Hell, he was broke, and they were driving BMWs and living in beachfront property. This was right up Clarett's alley.

He was one of these kids who'd always looked for shortcuts. His mom, Michelle, had worked long hours at a Sears in Youngstown, Ohio, just to support her family, but he found out early that football brought him all the love and cash he could handle. A caterer named Bobby Dellimuti provided a car, and other amenities, and soon, according to Clarett, Ohio State coaches and boosters had done the same. Clarett wasn't too proud to have his hand out. It's who he was.

But in L.A., it was the last thing he needed. He was spotted driving a 745 BMW and living in a mansion, when he should've been training for the NFL. The people in the rap world were sponsoring him, figuring he'd bring them back millions after he went in the first round, but what did they know? Did they know his 40 time?

The first trainer they hooked him up with, in the fall of 2004, was Chad Ikei, out of Arizona. Clarett was 256 pounds by then. A 256-pound tailback! And he had the most peculiar work habits.

"He actually wanted me to shut the gym down, so nobody could train when he was training, so he could focus and get in his intensity level, and all that,'' Ikei told me earlier this year. "I'm like 'You going to tell Coach Green someday at the Arizona Cardinals that nobody can work out when you're working out?' ''

His insecurity was mind-boggling. The harder Ikei pushed Clarett, the more Clarett sulked, and, ultimately, he quit.

"The day he quit, we were on a high school track," Ikei said. "He ran one lap, and these kids came out for PE class, and he was like, 'I'm not running in front of all these kids. It's embarrassing.' I said, 'What do you mean? For what? Who cares? He was like, 'Well, baseball season's not in, football season's going on right now, I'm too short and stocky to be a basketball player, so obviously these kids are going to know I'm not playing in the NFL or I'm not doing anything important.' I'm like, 'Who cares?'

"I told him right there, 'No one knows who you are here anyway. So who cares?' He was like, 'No, no, no.' And what made it worse, though, was when we were leaving, these two or three kids came running all the way out to the parking lot. 'Mr. Clarett, Mr. Clarett, can we get your autograph? And he smiles and signs these pieces of paper and then turns to me and is like, 'Well, you said nobody knows me. These people knew me.' I'm going 'The only reason they know you is because you're on ESPN f------ everything up for Ohio State and everybody else.' " So Clarett quit right then and there. "Maurice was like, 'Just give me what David Boston was getting, and I'll do whatever,' " Ikei says. "He wanted an easy route out. I said, 'You want David Boston's trainer? Here's the guy's number.' "

So Clarett quickly switched to Boston's guru, Charles Poliquin, who denies supplying Clarett with HGH or steroids. (Boston has been suspended by the NFL after testing positive for steroids). Poliquin and Clarett teamed up for six weeks in Phoenix, but it fell apart when Clarett wanted to move back to L.A., back closer to his rap friends. "I don't know why, he was living nice in Phoenix,'' Poliquin told me earlier this year. "They gave him the latest Beemer. Whoever was sponsoring him was giving him a real nice, plush life. He was driving better cars than five-year veterans of the NFL. I told his people, 'Make the guy take the bus and stay at Motel 6.'

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