Former Ohio State University running back Maurice Clarett told New Albany High School students about the dangers of alcohol and drugs April 22 during the Leslie H. Wexner Leadership Academy.
Clarett, who shined during his freshman year at Ohio State and played in the 2002 BCS National Championship Game, was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2005, but his late-night partying prevented him from being successful in football practice, he told students.
He said the Broncos practices started at 6 a.m., three to four hours after he would have gotten home from a night of "drinking and drugging."
Clarett said he was able to succeed early in his career at Ohio State because he stayed focused and shied away from booze and bars. That changed, he said, when some of his high school friends moved close to campus and he got involved the lifestyle he had tried to stay away from.
Clarett said he was suspended from Ohio State in 2003 and eventually got kicked off the team.
"When my friends and neighbors came back into my life, then I started going to night clubs and I started to lose focus," he said. "I was having so much fun.
"Show me your friends and I'll show you your future."
Senior Carol Vitellas, 18, said she will remember Clarett's words about surrounding oneself with people who can help, not hurt.
She said it inspired her to think about who she befriends when she attends college this fall.
Clarett said after being kicked off the Ohio State team, he used drugs and alcohol to "medicate" himself so he didn't have to face the fact that he was separated from the game he loved. He said he continued self-medicating during his brief stint in the NFL.
"Your habits create your future," he said.
Senior Tyrell Howard, 18, said he learned from Clarett that what he does now affects his future and he needs to make good decisions.
"(Clarett's) past taught him lessons and he was able to learn from his mistakes," Howard said.
Clarett told the students he started his recovery in prison serving a sentence on 2006 robbery charges. Working with another inmate introduced to him by the warden, he said, he learned to regain his self-discipline, getting his body back in shape and rediscovering the importance of education.
Once out of prison, Clarett said, he learned while playing for the Omaha Nighthawks in the United Football League that he could teach coaches and children about football and life.
When he returned to Ohio, he started speaking to groups and now promotes a healthier lifestyle on his website, mauriceclarettonline.com.
Local businessman and philanthropist Leslie Wexner, who asked Clarett questions during the event, said he was very impressed with Clarett, calling him "honest and forthright."
Wexner told the students that Clarett had said, "There's nothing you can ask me that's embarrassing after what I've been through."
The Leslie H. Wexner Leadership Academy was established through the New Albany Community Foundation's Steve and Judy Tuckerman Fund in 2007 to provide leadership perspectives for students.
New Albany juniors and seniors listened to Clarett speak in person at the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts. Freshman and sophomores listened to a live feed in the high school gymnasium, said district spokesman Patrick Gallaway.