Everyone's Impressed With Clarett Except Clarett

By RUSTY MILLER, AP Sports Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - What Archie Griffin, Robert Smith and Eddie George didn't do, Maurice Clarett will.

In Ohio State's matchup against Texas Tech in Saturday's Pigskin Classic, Clarett will become the first true freshman in school history to start at tailback in his first game.

As distinctive as that accomplishment is, Clarett -- pronounced cluh-REHT' -- is unimpressed.

"There's some satisfaction, but the trip is not over," he said. "It's a long ride. I've got a long career here."

It has not taken long for Clarett to have an impact on the Ohio State program.

Last fall he was selected as the Ohio Associated Press Mr. Football and USA Today's national offensive player of the year after rushing for 2,194 yards and 38 touchdowns at Harding High School in Warren.

He graduated from high school in December and enrolled at Ohio State for the winter quarter so he could go through spring workouts.

"I'm not really an advocate of guys graduating from high school early and missing their senior year and missing their high school all-star games and all that," head coach Jim Tressel said. "It happened to be the best thing for Maurice, which is good. I think it helped him adjust. I think he knew he needed a little more time to adjust."

Despite a thumb injury that required a splint, padding and lots of tape -- and learning an entirely new offense -- Clarett seemed to fit right in with the veterans from the first day. He has continued to impress during workouts leading up to Saturday's opener.

"I think he's demonstrated to all of us, whether it's the coaches or his teammates, that he's a guy who's going to be there," Tressel said. "He's a physical guy. I didn't see him miss a snap in practice in the whole preseason. As of this moment, Maurice Clarett has earned the right to start here at Ohio State."

With all of his awards and newspaper clippings, it would be understandable if it took Clarett a while to be accepted by Ohio State's upperclassmen.

"At first, people really didn't know what to expect of him just because he was coming in early and all that," tailback Maurice Hall said. "But he's a real hard worker and he's a very good player. A lot of respect came to him from a lot of the players just because of how hard he works and how much he wants to help this team."

One reason he has been accepted so readily is that he keeps his ego in check. When it was pointed out that none of Ohio State's tailback luminaries started in their first game, Clarett shrugged his shoulders.

"That doesn't mean too much," he said. "The only thing that really means much to me now is winning games."

As evidence, Clarett said he was "moody" because the Buckeyes had stumbled and bumbled through practices on Monday and Tuesday. Instead of clicking his cleats over being selected to start, he was griping about a lack of focus and effort.

"If the week of practice was better, I'd feel a whole lot better," he said. "I'm kind of moody right now being that we had a bad practice.

"You know, the way you practice is the way you play. It would be a sad story for everybody to get embarrassed on Saturday."

The 6-0, 230-pound Clarett may be the starter, but he knows he will be sharing the job. He beat out sophomores Lydell Ross and Hall -- backups to starter Jonathan Wells a year ago -- but all three will share the position.

"You never know," Tressel said with a grin. "It might be the Wishbone. It might be all three of them."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)