August 29, 2002 at 8:54 PM EST - Updated July 12 at 6:40 AM
By RUSTY MILLER, AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - It would seem that one of the few people who has Maurice Clarett's first-game heroics in perspective is Clarett himself.
"There's always somebody who did better," the freshman tailback said. "So it's kind of a humbling experience."
In the days since he rushed for 175 yards and three touchdowns in Ohio State's 45-21 victory over Texas Tech last Saturday, fans and media have clamored to label Clarett as the next great Buckeye running back in the lineage of Howard "Hopalong" Cassady, Vic Janowicz, Les Horvath, Keith Byars, Eddie George and even the local icon himself, Archie Griffin.
On top of that, the word Heisman has been bandied about. After all, no Ohio State back has ever had a more impressive debut.
Clarett's name -- it's pronounced cluh-REHT' -- even calls to mind that of former Heisman winner Tony Dorsett.
For his part, Clarett (pictured, above) seems unmoved by the whole enterprise.
"It was just one game. I got lucky on a couple of runs," he said. "Thanks to the line I did what I did. Now I need to watch film and go back to the practice field."
Clarett, last year's Mr. Football in Ohio and USA Today's national offensive player of the year, scored on runs of 59, 45 and 2 yards. He muscled for yards inside and he streaked past cornerbacks when he got through the line.
Even those he fights for playing time say Clarett deserves the attention.
"You definitely expect the media and fans to like him because he really did a good job for the team and helped us win," said fellow tailback Maurice Hall, also Clarett's roommate. "You have to give him the credit because he worked hard all season coming into this game."
Texas Tech linebacker Mike Smith said of Clarett, "He had strong legs. You couldn't arm-tackle him. He ran hard."
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said good things about Clarett, but declined to go overboard. He preferred to praise the offensive line and the tailback triumvirate of Clarett, Hall and Lydell Ross.
"We have three guys we think can really tote it," he said. "We are really proud of all three of them."
Clarett's 175 rushing yards -- which pales only in comparison to Griffin's 239 yards among Ohio State freshman runners -- came on 21 carries. Hall had 74 on 13 and Ross gained 40 yards -- scoring two short touchdowns -- on 16 attempts.
Clarett doesn't have a massive ego, at least not one that he puts on display.
Asked how he would rate his first game on a scale of 1 to 10, he said, "I'd say about a 6. There were a lot of things I could have done differently. I could have made a lot of different cuts. I could have been in a little bit better position on some of my blocks. I could have shot my hands out when I was blocking people. I could have run downfield a little bit more when a receiver caught the ball."
He has already learned the fine art of deflecting compliments toward those who block for him.
"The offensive line did extremely well," he said. "As you can see, they put up 175 yards."
With four players vying for time and carries at tailback -- JaJa Riley is coming back from an injury -- Tressel will have a difficult juggling act keeping everyone happy in the weeks ahead.
In the mean time, however, one Columbus TV station is already seeking a catchy nickname for Clarett. An Ohio State booster paper already calls him "Big Mo."
And Clarett? He's almost oblivious to the hype.
Asked if he had received congratulatory phone calls after his breakout game, Clarett sounded more like the 18-year-old kid he is than a Heisman candidate: "My cell phone's dead, so I couldn't receive any calls. I don't give anybody my house phone number, so I just basically stayed to myself and with my mother."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)