Learning the hard way: Former college athletes talk about suspension

Youngstown State suspended four of its players ahead of the FCS National Championship football game

Will Mahone was suspended from Notre Dame's football team after being arrested for fighting at a party.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – College is already stressful, but athletes experience even more pressure and can sometimes crack. That’s why two former athletes who lost everything are trying to help others learn from their mistakes.

Athletes don’t always realize how much their actions can impact their lives.

When you’re in the public eye, everything you do, good or bad, can be broadcast to the world. The spotlight doesn’t discriminate against age, which can lead to tough lessons for young, college athletes.

“You got a lot of pressure on you and I mean, for an 18 or 19-year-old kid, for what they expect, you have to be very, very disciplined,” said former Notre Dame player Will Mahone.

Will Mahone, former Notre Dame football player
Will Mahone, former Notre Dame football player

On Wednesday, Youngstown State running back Martin Ruiz pleaded not guilty to carrying a concealed weapon and improper handling. He is suspended from playing in the FCS National Championship game against James Madison on Jan. 7.

Three other YSU players are also suspended from the game for failing an NCAA drug test.

James Madison’s team is having trouble, too, with seven of its players suspended from the game.

Mahone has lived the story of the star athlete.

“I just came across a lot of injuries and the freedom of being at school, partying and I guess, not necessarily being around the wrong crowds, but doing the wrong things,” he said.

During Mahone’s second year playing for Notre Dame, he was arrested for fighting at a party and resisting arrest. It led to his suspension from the team.

“Being away from my mom, being away from my support, I lost my track a little bit and it led to bad decisions,” he said.

Maurice Clarett, former Ohio State football player
Maurice Clarett, former Ohio State football player

Maurice Clarett, who used to play for Ohio State, understands what that feels like as well.

“To be that guy who gives autographs, 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.

He was dismissed from OSU’s 2002 National Championship team after becoming the center of player benefit scandals.

Clarett said most athletes in the spotlight don’t realize how big they are until something happens.

“You just feel like you’re one of the guys, and you understand you score touchdowns and that the university is big, but you don’t understand your personal responsibility.”

Still, Mahone said some players do well and stay on track.

“The guys that I see succeed and my friends that are in the league right now, they did a good job of it, you know, staying the course and everything. Hats off to them, but it’s not for everyone.”

Young athletes need to learn consequences and discipline at an early age, Clarett said.

“If you can get them when they’re 5, 6, 7, 8 and you can create a different reality or different environment, and you can show that football is just a tool or football is just a vehicle.”

He and Mahone now tell their stories in an effort to teach these lessons.

Clarett runs The Red Zone in Youngstown, which offers counseling services and after-school programs for kids.

Mahone works in Austintown and is trying to go back to school to finish his degree.