Situation with Clarett, Ohio State gets worse

Freshman says paperwork was filed

school says no

January 01, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

TEMPE, Ariz. - Ever since he stepped onto the Ohio State campus last spring, Maurice Clarett has rarely stepped out of the spotlight.

Yet the attention Clarett has received this season for his exploits on the field, and the notoriety that followed his disagreements with teammates and coaches, seems to have paled in comparison to the circus-like atmosphere that has shadowed the freshman tailback the past two days.

As the second-ranked Buckeyes get ready for Friday's national championship game against No. 1 Miami in the Fiesta Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium, the spotlight is on Clarett.

After disclosing to reporters Monday that he was miffed about not being able to fly home to Youngstown, Ohio, to attend Tuesday's funeral of a lifelong friend, Clarett continued yesterday to fan the flames of this ill-timed controversy.

Clarett yesterday directed his displeasure at Ohio State officials, whom he said lied to the media about his not filling out the paperwork he needed to receive financial compensation for his plane ticket back to Ohio.

"They care about me as a person, but I think everybody's so focused on the game," said Clarett. "Call my mother and ask her. The paperwork is on file.

"They can't lie about that. I was ticked off about that this morning. It wasn't in the coach's hands. He left it to the compliance office. That's their job to get something like that done, and they never called me back."

Clarett said he filled out the paperwork to obtain a Pell Grant, which is given to students with financial need, after learning that a friend from Youngstown had been shot and killed on Dec. 21.

But Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger said yesterday that, as of Monday, no paperwork had been filed with the school's financial aid office.

"We care deeply about all of our student-athletes, and we did everything possible to assist Maurice Clarett in this time of his personal grief," Geiger said in a statement released by the school. "Unfortunately, given the circumstances, we had no other choice other than to react in the manner in which we did."

Asked earlier in the day what his reaction was to the school claiming the paperwork had not been filed, Clarett said: "I laughed and shook my head. They're making themselves look good. My mother laughed, too.

"They want to make themselves look better than me. They make me look like I'm stupid, like I would put myself in that position. The program is bigger than the player."

Clarett said he hasn't talked with Geiger since the season began, and that he has never been totally trustful of those in the athletic department outside of head coach Jim Tressel, his assistants and the other players.

"There's no special trust," said Clarett. "I trust my teammates because I've been around them for a long time, but as far as anybody from the outside, it's not really anybody from our circle. I don't want to say care less, but basically I could care less for them."

Tressel said yesterday that he hasn't discussed the situation with Clarett, but the coach doesn't believe it will be a distraction.

"Whenever we discuss distractions, those are individual in nature," said Tressel. "It's all a matter of what distracts who and how. In this situation, there are a lot of things going on, someone grieving."

Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel said he hasn't seen a change in Clarett during the team's practice sessions here, and he expects the star tailback to be ready for the Hurricanes.

"It really isn't a hurdle for us," said Krenzel. "Whatever happened, happened, and it doesn't concern any of us except Maurice and our coaching staff. In that respect, it doesn't bother any of us.

"We know that Maurice is going to do an excellent job of preparing. We know physically he's going to give it everything he has. It doesn't bother us at all. He's doing what he did all year to make us a good football team."

Clarett's physical condition had been the biggest question mark after a regular season in which he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in September and then sustained a shoulder injury against Penn State in late October.

The knee surgery caused him to miss only one game, but the shoulder injury sidelined Clarett off and on for three more before he returned for the regular-season finale against Michigan, a 14-9 Buckeyes win.

With nearly seven weeks to recover, Clarett said he is at full strength and could be the same kind of nightmare for Miami's porous run defense as he was before he got hurt. An early season candidate for the Heisman Trophy, Clarett finished the season with 1,190 yards and 14 touchdowns on 199 carries. He also scored two touchdowns on pass receptions.

"Maurice is clear on what he wants to accomplish," Tressel said. "He felt that the earlier he got here [coming last spring after finishing his high school requirements], the sooner he would be the starting tailback. He wants to be the best someday."

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