There was never a hesitation in Jim Tressel's mind when Maurice Clarett called and asked for a favor.
Clarett was putting together Saturday's charity basketball game for Victory Christian's Riot Youth Center and he needed a celebrity coach. Who better than Tressel, who coached Clarett on Ohio State University's 2002 national championship football team?
Tressel will be at Struthers Fieldhouse for the 1 p.m. game that will feature several current and former football players from the Mahoning Valley. He's doing it to help not only a former Buckeye, but, more importantly, to help a friend who has made a 180 in his life.
"He's on a mission to make a difference in the life of kids or any life he can touch," Tressel said. "I think he always had that passion. He had a detour there and from that he learned some great lessons. I always knew he had it in his heart to help people."
Tressel has remained in Clarett's corner through the most difficult of times. There were multiple arrests, a dramatic police chase through the streets of Columbus and an eventual incarceration.
It was in prison that Clarett began to show Tressel the side of him that never surfaced when he was absorbed with his goal to strike it rich in the NFL.
"He's a deep thinker," Tressel said. "He's a communicator. I suppose if you spend time in jail there are a couple of ways you can go. You can decide to get better or decide to get mad at the world. He decided he wanted to collect his thoughts and read, and he read a lot. He knew he was certain that when the next opportunities arose he would be able to take advantage of them."
Tressel thinks Clarett is uniquely qualified to help young people and direct the ones who are accepting of his knowledge in the right direction.
"No question," Tressel said. "I think the fact that he has straddled so many experiences, from high school superstar to college superstar to the consequences (of prison), he's experienced the gamut. There's no one that can say to him you don't understand. He understands. He's lived it."
Tressel is looking forward to coaching during the charity game. He joked that he didn't know if Clarett wants him to coach or play because "if I get the ball, it's going up."
More than anything, Tressel is glad for the opportunity to help a friend who is helping others.
"The kids will have fun, and it's great that Maurice wants to bring his friends back home to help make a difference," Tressel said. "He appreciates all the opportunities he had growing up in northeast Ohio and the Mahoning Valley."
It's been 11 years since Clarett began preparing for what turned out to be a sensational freshman season at Ohio State. At that time it appeared certain that he was destined for stardom beyond the college level.
"I really don't think (about that) because he knows my concern for him wasn't just about football," Tressel said. "I really never did think about what if. I don't spend time doing what ifs. I couldn't afford to do it when I was coaching.
"I deal with what the score is, and I'm pleased he's trying to make a difference. I also know life is a journey. It's not like he'll never have another challenge in his life. He's committed himself to helping others."