The former Warren Harding star has a six-month head start on most freshmen.
By GARY HOUSTEAU
COLUMBUS -- When the Ohio State freshmen took their group photo on media day Aug. 2, running back Maurice Clarett, the reigning Mr. Football, sat in the center of the front row. Around him were Justin Zwick, Mike D'Andrea, Roy Hall, Quinn Pitcock, Doug Datish and other members of the much-heralded recruiting class.
Clarett, fresh off of a strong spring performance at Ohio State, is already considered a veteran compared to his star-crossed classmates who have similar intentions of making an immediate impact in their first year.
"It felt kind of strange when I pulled up and I saw them getting on the bus to go do something together," said Clarett. "I guess they were going to get introduced to the campus and everything. It was kind of weird, I was kind of laughing at them. I actually never went through all of that, I had to learn on the run. But it's all behind them now and we're all kind of mixed together now, so I guess I just missed the first part of it."
It comes as no surprise that Clarett, who helped carry Warren Harding to the regional final a little more than eight months ago, is in a position of leadership among the freshmen.
"It seems like I've kind of been knowing everybody for a while and they've already accepted me with open arms I guess," Clarett said. "They're kind of looking toward me for like, I don't want to say guidance, but like 'what's next?' or 'how you do this?' or 'how you do that?' Just some freshmen things, asking a lot of questions."
If the spring is any indication, however, Clarett will be looked to this season by more than just the freshmen class. Although he emerged from the spring session behind Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall on the depth chart, Clarett should get a great deal of playing time.
"I'm just looking to get through [preseason] practice healthy and not really worry about a position, or where I'm at on the depth chart or anything right now," Clarett said. "I just want to get through practice, learn everything I need to know and do the things that I need to do right."
Chance to play
If all goes as planned for Clarett, his name should figure prominently in the running back rotation by the season opener Saturday against Texas Tech.
"Everybody is going to practice and getting the same reps and everything, but what counts is the scrimmages in the stadium and being in the heat of the battle when the pads actually are on," he said. "The person with the least mistakes is going to get the most reps."
Although he claims that he came to Ohio State early just to get a head start on things, Clarett isn't denying that he wants to be the starter when the season opens.
"It's like everybody; you probably ask all the running backs and they'll say the same thing. I'm not any different," Clarett said. "You never want talent to sit on the sideline, that's kind of like a waste of talent. I'm not saying that all of the other players sitting on the sideline don't have any talent, but [Coach Jim Tressel] preaches the best talent is going to play."