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Clarett playing for OSU, not the NFL
By Jack Arute
Special to ABC Sports Online

Maurice Clarett lives in a fishbowl. The Buckeye running back from Youngstown, Ohio, who will turn 19 next Tuesday, has played a big part in Ohio State's undefeated season. He is an outstanding running back. One sure to shatter every rushing record at Ohio State and that's pretty impressive when you consider the Buckeye rushing pedigree.

Once decked out in crimson and gray, Clarett looks the part. When he's given the ball, he acts the part. His style is always forward. His strength is accented by an ability to rumble through a hole and pick up yardage.

Maurice Clarett rushed for 133 yards on 30 carries to help the Buckeyes stay unbeaten on Saturday.
Maurice knows all about the path he is on -- one that likely will reward him with a Heisman Trophy -- Ohio State's sixth player to do so -- sometime in his career. All that might keep him and Ohio State from adding another bronze bust to their football bobby is the lure of the NFL.

Last week Clarett caused a minor media storm when ESPN the Magazine published a cover story that intimated that given the correct set of circumstances, Clarett would challenge the NFL rule that prohibits underclassmen from entering the NFL until three years sit between their high school graduating class and their declaration.

"Do I think about it?" he said in the magazine when asked about challenging the NFL's rule. "It's got to go through your head, man. It's got to go through your head. I'm not saying it's something I will do. I'm not saying it's something I won't do."

Clarett didn't want to answer the question. I'm sure at the time of the interview he hadn't thought about the prospect and in a very adolescent manner tried to give the author an honest answer.

Once the magazine hit the newsstands and Maurice saw the results of his comments, I'm also sure Maurice tried to clarify his position.

"I answered a question that was a hypothetical," explained Clarett. "What should I have said? I can't control what the media makes out of it. All I can do is keep playing football. Keep putting on the scarlet and gray helmet and going out there each week with my team and play football for Ohio State."

That's what he did on Saturday, racking up 133 yards on 30 carries -- their leading rusher again -- as the Buckeyes extended their record to 8-0

Clarett suffered a shoulder stinger on his final carry against Wisconsin. But he is expected to recover in time for this week's Penn State game (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).

As the season goes deeper, more little nicks and bruises are coming Maurice's way. Its all part of the maturation process that every freshman football player goes through. What most don't get subjected to though is the close scrutiny that Maurice Clarett gets 24/7.

Clarett will not challenge the NFL. He's not leaving the Ohio State campus except for their remaining road games and certainly a number of postseason awards presentations. His honesty got him in hot water. He answered a question prefaced with "what if" and the next thing you know, his answer gets converted into "I may".

Ever since the NFL made its underclassmen rule part of its collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association, outside parties have searched for the right player to challenge it. Current NFL players and team executives are not interested in attempts to change their policy.

"It would be a real bad idea for Maurice to try and leave for the NFL," said New York Giants running back Ron Dayne during Saturday's OSU-Wisconsin match. "There is such a big jump for college to the NFL. I think he needs to stay where he is for a couple more years."

An NFL player personnel director echoed the same sentiments, as did former Cowboys exec, Gil Brandt.

"There is no way that Clarett or any other freshman or sophomore should even think about it," Brandt said. "I have never seen a freshman however good he thinks he is that could play in the NFL. They need experience, and college is where you get that experience.

"People forget that the rule is part of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement. It is not unreasonable and there is no court in the land that will overturn it."

Maurice Clarett understands all of this. He is a bright young man and takes a serious approach to both his studies and his football. It's a shame that he still must learn to be wary of questions prefaced with the words "what if".

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