OSU players support Clarett

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 25, 2003

COLUMBUS - While Maurice Clarett takes on the NFL in court, most of his teammates are trying to focus on Saturday's Big Ten opener against Northwestern.

Still, the fourth-ranked Ohio State's players say they support the suspended tailback in his lawsuit asking the NFL to drop its rule that bans players from being drafted until they have been out of high school three years.

''You come to college to earn a living. For some people, it's playing football, to go to the next level. Some people, you come to get your degree,'' starting offensive tackle Shane Olivea said. ''But the optimum goal after four or five years is to be able to earn a living.''

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Olivea said college athletes are no different from fellow students who accept an opportunity for a high-paying job during school.

''If someone offered you a job while you're in the middle of school that pays more money than most people ever see in their lifetime, you'd be a fool to stay in school,'' Olivea said. ''I think that's the mentality he's in. If it's there to offer, why not go for it?''

Most players think he is equipped physically and mentally to move into the pros.

Maurice Hall, who spent most of last year as a backup to Clarett, said he believed the NFL's three-year rule should be abolished.

''There's always some players out of high school who are ready to play,'' he said.

Based on what he's heard about the NFL from friends and former teammates, senior safety Will Allen said there was no way he could have jumped to the pros when he was younger.

''I wasn't ready for that. The speed of the game and the business of it - it's a whole other realm,'' he said. ''It's crazy up there. You really need to go through college, go through some trials and tribulations, go through some growing pains and really know yourself before you go up there. That's a huge thing.''

Allen said it was particularly important for a young athlete to have responsible advisers.

''For an 18-year-old young man to go up there, or even a 20-year-old man to go up there, it's going to be difficult,'' he said. ''And when money's involved, that's a hard thing to do. Money, sometimes, can corrupt a lot of different people and the way they think. You have to have people around you who know that and are willing to help you regardless of your status or who you are.''

Linebacker A.J. Hawk had numerous collisions with Clarett a year ago in practice. Clarett set Ohio State freshman records with 1,237 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns.

''He's like a man among boys at times when he was playing. We'll see what happens with that,'' Hawk said. ''Maybe he'll be back with us.''

Sophomore center Nick Mangold, who had never started a game until last week, was asked if Clarett's suit could pave the way into the pros for underclassmen like him.

''I don't think I've got a case,'' he said with a laugh. ''I won't try that one.''