Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Clarett blasts OSU officials

Star claims they wouldn't allow him to attend longtime friend's funeral

The Associated Press

PHOENIX - Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett missed the funeral of a lifelong friend because, he said, school officials never answered his request to fly home from practices for the national championship game.

Clarett said Ohio State "gave him the runaround" when he asked to attend Monday's service.

"I guess football's more important than a person's life to them," he said. "That's why I'm ready to get this game over and go back home."

  Hey, Ohio State fans! Headed to the Fiesta Bowl? The Enquirer wants to hear your stories as you prepare to leave for Friday's national championship game and then talk to you while you're soaking up the scene in Tempe. Contact Rick Green, assistant manager editor for Business and Metro, in the Enquirer newsroom at (513) 768-8477. Or, better yet, send him an e-mail at rgreen@enquirer.com. Please include your telephone number here in Cincinnati and/or where you'll be in Tempe.
Ohio State officials said they told Clarett he could buy a ticket and submit a request for reimbursement through the NCAA's special assistance fund, which pays for such emergencies as long as an athlete demonstrates need.

"We told Maurice that he could fly home.... If he could buy a ticket home and back, we could reimburse him once the paperwork is filed," OSU athletic director Andy Geiger said. "He elected not to do that, or couldn't afford that, or there wasn't anybody in his family who could do it. We were stuck in a place where the rule is we couldn't go forward and buy a ticket."

Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said Clarett was never denied the opportunity to return to Youngstown.

"The best thing for all involved is to say it didn't work out," Tressel said.

Clarett set Ohio State freshman records this season with 1,190 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns. The No.2-ranked Buckeyes will play top-ranked Miami in the Fiesta Bowl on Friday night.

Clarett declined to give the name of his friend, who he said was shot last week.

Clarett's mother, Michelle, confirmed that the friend was Juaquin A. "Juan" Bell, 23, of Youngstown.

"It's a friendship they had growing up," she said. "Young people need to say goodbye. It's unfortunate, but you have to go by the rules."

Youngstown police said Bell was shot multiple times Dec.21. They said drugs, money and bullet casings were found at the scene. No one had been arrested.

Clarett said he was affected not only by the death but by Ohio State's response.

"I'm kind of messed up now because they jerked me kind of," Clarett said. "I really wanted to go back. I'm not really supposed to be here. But it's cool. Things happen in life, there's bumps in the road like everything else. But I'll be all right."

Tressel called Clarett's comment about football being more important to OSU officials than life disappointing, given the theme of the season.

"That's one of the things we talk quite a bit about is that football is a part of life," Tressel said. "Football is one of the things we do. It certainly isn't everything we do."

Added Geiger: "The human experience isn't put on hold because we're playing in the Fiesta Bowl."

Earlier in the season, Clarett talked about other friends who hadn't been able to escape the streets in the Rust Belt city. He said he had lost several friends and relatives, and that he thought of them every day when he considered how fortunate he was to have a scholarship and the opportunity to better himself.

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