By MATT WAGNER
STRUTHERS - Growing up in Warren and having an older brother who was friends with Warren G. Harding legend Maurice Clarett, Dan Herron idolized Clarett as a kid.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Former Warren G. Harding and Ohio State football player Maurice Clarett, left, puts his arms around his former OSU coach Jim Tressel during introductions to “The Comeback Project”?charity basketball game on Saturday in Struthers.
He did so much that after a successful career at Harding, he made the move to Columbus to play running back at Ohio State, where Clarett played for one season.
"I've known Maurice Clarett since he was in high school," Dan said. "I was running around with those guys when I was a young boy in elementary school. He broke all the records out of Harding. For me to go to Harding (after him), and he went to Ohio State and I went to Ohio State. ... He was definitely somebody I looked up to."
Therefore, the current Cincinnati Bengals running back needed zero persuasion when Clarett asked him to be apart of a charity basketball game while the two were working out during Herron's offseason.
Dan and his older brother Dave took part in Clarett's charity game, "The Comeback Project," at Struthers Fieldhouse on Saturday to help out The Riot, a youth center for Victory Christian Center in Lowellville. Among the star-studded cast was former Youngstown State and Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, Hubbard graduate Anthony Smith, Harding graduate Prescott Burgess, Chaney graduate Brad Smith and current Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson.
Clarett's lead blocker at Harding, Dave Herron jumped at the opportunity to play when his old teammate and friend called him and told him about the game.
"He called me and was like, 'I'm doing a charity game,' " Dave said. "Right there, I said, 'I'm in - just give me the date and time.' Once he gave me that, I was scheduled to come. Anything for the community and anything for a good friend."
Giving back to the community played a huge role in all of these athletes' decisions to join Clarett and the Herron brothers, and Tressel said this is one aspect that makes the Mahoning Valley special.
"It's one of the blessings about growing up in Ohio, and I'm sure everyone has pride in where they grew up," Tressel said. "Our good folks never forget about one another, and they invest their most valuable things, which is their time to help their communities."
In terms of entertainment value, the game was a little sloppy to start, with the group containing Clarett, the professional athletes, and Tressel actually going down early to The Riot's team.
That didn't last long, as Clarett's team started to use their athleticism to run up and down the court, eventually blowing out their challengers. They even tried to do some plays to energize the crowd, like at the end when Anthony Smith tried mulitple times to dunk the ball.
"We had to knock that rust off," Dave said. "We had to get out of football mode and get into basketball mode. I shot three 3s and went 0 for 3. My day was over, shooting the ball."
With a solid turnout and a camera crew for an "ESPN 30 for 30" documentary in the house, it seemed that Clarett's comeback was a focus.
The success of this event, which Clarett put together with Nate Ortiz, a youth and young adult pastor at Victory Christian Center, is just beginning for Clarett, Dave said.
"I felt for him when he was going through the hard times," Dave said. "I'm looking forward to what he has next, and this is small compared to what he's going to be able to do in a year or so. The guy is just good with people, and he just wants to make people better and himself better."
Tressel agreed with Dave Herron about his former star running back that lead Ohio State to the 2002 BCS National Championship.
"It affirms what I knew he was capable of," Tressel said. "Things happen in life - that's the way it is - and he didn't allow that to stop him from doing the great things he wants to do. This is just the beginning."