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“Youngstown Boys” Accomplishes Its Goal

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Former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett helped the Buckeyes to a 2002 national championship as a freshman but never played football in Columbus again. His story was chronicled Saturday in ESPN's 30-for-30 film "Youngstown Boys." Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images.
Former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett helped the Buckeyes to a 2002 national championship as a freshman but never played football in Columbus again. His story was chronicled Saturday in ESPN's 30-for-30 film "Youngstown Boys." Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – To “Buckeyes Nation” and throughout the NCAA, Maurice Clarett and Jim Tressel are polarizing figures given their checkered tenures, respectfully (or disrespectfully for some) at Ohio State.

The ESPN documentary “Youngstown Boys” featuring the former Ohio State running back and head coach that premiered Saturday appears to be just as divisive.

Directed by filmmakers Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, it is the latest in ESPN’s “30-for-30” documentary series. It chronicles the football careers and personal lives of Clarett and Tressel as Youngstown, Ohio natives. The film focuses on their rise to prominence and their eventual demise at Ohio State off the field.

Television columnist Brian Lowry of Variety.com reviewed the documentary with lukewarm feeling: “Because ESPN is so in bed with these sports institutions, any willingness to focus on their warts — especially in this sort of longform journalism — is laudable. But while ‘Youngstown Boys’ spins a yarn using Clarett as a microcosm, this look at the Buckeyes can’t quite dot all the I’s.”

Tom Reed of the Northeast Ohio Media group was more receptive, writing, “The story is mostly a quest for Clarett’s redemption. It’s good to see he’s in a better place now.

“‘Youngstown Boys’ doesn’t approach the quality of ‘The Two Escobars,’ (a 30-for-30 feature also directed by the Zimbalist brothers) but it’s certainly worth watching, especially for (Mahoning) Valley residents who remember all the details — even the ones left on the cutting-room floor.”

After an early media release and a premiere screening last week in Columbus, David Briggs of the Toledo Blade pointed out inaccuracies and selective editing in the film that he feels “undermine(s) the credibility of the work.”

Briggs wrote, “Some will find flaws, including a sense at times that one side of the story is being told. Former OSU athletic director Andy Geiger, for instance, is cast as a villain out to get Clarett, without mention if Geiger was contacted for comment. And in a review copy of the documentary, deceptive editing threatens to undermine the credibility of the work.

“Among the examples: The score on the ABC broadcast is changed to make it seem as if Clarett — not Maurice Hall — scored the game-winning touchdown in the 2002 OSU-Michigan game; a celebratory shot from after the 2011 Sugar Bowl is passed off as the ‘02 national title celebration — current safety C.J. Barnett and former linebacker Etienne Sabino are in the foreground; and two quotes taken out of context.

“As the film builds up to Clarett’s hyped first game in 2002, Tressel is shown talking to reporters.”

He added, “Problem was, the scene was from 2008, when Tressel spoke about Terrelle Pryor’s debut. Yet those with a soft spot for comeback stories will enjoy the film.”

After filing his review, Briggs reported on Saturday that ESPN planned to adjust the “deceptive editing” prior to Saturday’s premiere, writing, “ESPN is making late adjustments to a documentary on the rise, fall, and redemption of former Ohio State star Maurice Clarett ahead of its premiere today after the network discovered what it called inappropriate ‘creative liberties.’”

Though reviews are mixed and the Zimbalists had taken “creative liberties” that were corrected for Saturday’s national premiere, both Clarett and Tressel are satisfied with the final result.

“Well, to me I was very pleased about it, very pleased as to what was displayed,” Clarett said during a teleconference hosted by ESPN last week. “I was happier even understanding I believe the film kind of transcends me and Coach Tressel.”

Tressel added during the teleconference, “To me this story is about a young man, football, a relationship with his coaches, his teammates, tough times, but hanging on to hope. I’m anxious to see what he does in the next 50 years of his life. I don’t know if I’ll be there for all of it, but I’m anxious to see what he does with the rest of his life to make a difference in other people’s lives.”

Clarett tweeted live during Saturday’s broadcast, and the viewer response was overwhelmingly positive. He tweeted, “I hope ppl really ‘feel’ the film. That’s it and that’s all. I want it to connect to ppl’s soul.”

Clarett’s story is a rags-to-riches-to-jail-to-redemption story and has inspired many people in the wake of the “Youngstown Boys” film. Clarett’s hope for the film was to inspire others, and he accomplished just that judging by the social media reactions.

And following the premiere Saturday, Clarett responded to the scores of positive responses via Twitter saying, “Just looking forward to using this platform to impact the minds of young men. I have so much to share and teach. Inspired to do it...”