Athletes find motivation in many ways

Call it a waste of talent. Question what they were thinking.

Just don’t count them out.

There have been plenty of star athletes, destined for greatness, who run into trouble. Arrests for robbery, DUI, rape, murder and battery are more documented than touchdowns scored, home runs hit and dunks slammed.

Recently, I caught up with Akise Teague, Ohio’s Mr. Football in 2010. The Ursuline product helped the Fighting Irish win three-straight Division V state football championships and was poised for big-time success at the University of Cincinnati.

Not even a full year into his full-ride college career, Teague was arrested for robbery in a UC residence hall and booted from the football team.

“Temptation,” Teague said. “Just a really bad mistake.”

Uncharacteristic, too. Though he grew up in a rough neighborhood in Youngstown, Teague had a good head on his shoulders. He’s well-spoken and was guided by former Ursuline coach Dan Reardon.

“Coach Reardon was a blessing in my life,” Teague said. “He really taught me how to be a man on and off the field.”

Teague wasn’t the first college kid – athlete or otherwise – to screw up. He won’t be the last, either. He’s not even the first Mr. Football to suffer a setback based on a selfish whim.

A two-time Mr. Football, Erick Howard of North Canton Hoover, never got into trouble aside from a minor middle school scuffle. In 2011, he broke into a Canton townhouse, tied the residents up with duct tape, violated a female and left with cash and cellphones.

Instead of a scholarship to the University of Akron, Howard is spending the next 30 years of his life in prison.

Does the name Maurice Clarett ring a bell? The Warren G. Harding graduate was Ohio’s Mr. Football in 2001 and a laundry list of problems followed him past a historic year at Ohio State.

Now, he’s an inspiration. Clarett has turned his life around by giving back to the community and guiding others to avoid the mistakes he made.

Teague looks to be on that same track.

Motivation doesn’t have to be on a grand stage like that. It could be seen each day and every hour, really. Mahoning Valley Scrappers outfielder Brian Ruiz got only his 18th start of the season on Wednesday and went 2 for 4 – bringing his hit total up to six. The Cleveland native’s professional career likely won’t last beyond the completion of this New York-Penn League season, but he still takes solace in what he’s accomplished so far – even in practice.

“The only thing you know is that you’re going to practice,” Ruiz said. “You have to take the practice seriously and keep working hard. I come to practice like that’s my game.

“The day they give you an opportunity, you just got to do your job and prove that to them.”

And this is the perfect time of year for athletes to prove their worth – especially to prove doubters wrong. Be on the lookout for the Tribune Chronicle’s Fearless Football Forecast. Chances are, if you’re a fan, player or coach, you will be rubbed the wrong way when myself or a fellow sportswriter picks against your team.

Looking for locker room material? This is ideal.

The Jackson-Milton football team has already found use of one of my previous clips. I called out the BlueJays in a May 3 column for not winning a game in 2012 and not ever making the Ohio High School Athletic Association playoffs. That article is now hanging in their locker room.

Bravo, Jackson-Milton. I dig the enthusiasm. I truly hope it works. I want that winless record to be motivation so a turnaround, this year, is inevitable.