- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 15, 2002

COLUMBUS, Ohio College football finally has a Heisman Trophy candidate with a little Mo-mentum.
Ohio State true freshman tailback Maurice Clarett rumbled for 230 yards against No.10 Washington State yesterday, almost single-handedly carrying the sixth-ranked Buckeyes to a 25-7 victory at Ohio Stadium.
"I've always been told that big players make big plays in big games," said Clarett after the sixth most productive rushing performance in school history. "I knew the whole nation would be watching, and I just wanted to come out and establish this team and myself as a future presence."
The future could well be now for the 6-foot, 230-pound native of Warren, Ohio. Last season's national high school offensive player of the year at Warren Harding High, Clarett now leads the nation in rushing with 471 yards on 63 carries through three games. And if the Buckeyes (3-0) continue bludgeoning opponents behind their bruising freshman, Clarett has to be considered a factor in the Heisman race.
No freshman has ever won the award. But no clear favorite has emerged through the first several weeks of the season, and a host of preseason candidates have already disappeared by virtue of team losses or disappointing performances. That list of front-runners-turned-outsiders includes Florida's Rex Grossman, Marshall's Byron Leftwich, Michigan State's Charles Rogers and Washington State's Jason Gesser.
Gesser's bid ended emphatically yesterday, as the Buckeyes harassed the senior slinger into a woeful second half that included two interceptions and just 108 yards passing. Clarett, meanwhile, spent the entire second half introducing himself to the nation's Heisman voters. After a sluggish first half that left Ohio State trailing 7-6 and Clarett with only 36 yards on 11 carries, the freshman dynamo did his best Vesuvius impersonation in the third quarter.
Clarett took a pitch off tackle on Ohio State's first play of the second half, flattened Washington State's defensive end with a stiff arm and rambled 44 yards for the Buckeyes' biggest gain of the day. Seven plays later, Clarett powered into the end zone from three yards out to put the Buckeyes ahead 13-7, and the rest of the half devolved into a one-man highlight reel.
All told, Clarett touched the ball 20 times in the half, gained 194 yards (9.7 yards per carry) and scored twice, playing through cramps to the delight of the record crowd of 104, 553 fans who came to bear witness to the blossoming young legend.
"It was a little like when we had Keith Byars here," said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel of Clarett's performance. "You might get him down in the first and second quarters. You can barely bring him down in the third quarter. And then in the fourth quarter, you can't bring him down. He just wears on you."
He did exactly that yesterday, showcasing an incredible combination of power, 4.5 speed and durability. Even though Ohio State has virtually no passing game and Washington State routinely stacked eight players in the box, the Cougars (2-1) simply couldn't corral Clarett.
"He just punished us," said Washington State safety Erik Coleman, one of two Cougars who bounced off Clarett simultaneously near the end of his most impressive run of the day. "I kept thinking, 'Man, this is like trying to tackle an SUV.'"
That description probably wouldn't satisfy Clarett, a perfectionist who endured a self-imposed, three-day vow of silence in anger over his first collegiate fumble last week.
"It's a privilege to carry the ball at Ohio State. You've got 100,000 people depending on you, and you can't go out there and put the ball on the ground that's inexcusable," said Clarett of the miscue. "There are some people here that work all week at a lousy job and don't have anything to look forward to but the Ohio State football game. They're sitting in like section ZZ, and they can barely see the color of our helmets, but I want to make sure they get their money's worth."
Nobody will be demanding a refund after yesterday's performance. Even Ohio State legend Archie Griffin left the press box shaking his head in awe.
"He's the total package," said the two-time Heisman Trophy winner (1974-75). "He can run over you between the tackles. He can beat you on the corner with his speed and pad level. And he's got great hands catching the ball out of the backfield. All that and an amazing work ethic this kid is very special."
Is he special enough to break the freshman record for rushing yardage (1,863 yards) set by Wisconsin's Ron Dayne in 1996? Maybe. He's on track for a 2,000-yard season, averaging 157 yards per game through the first three games of Ohio State's 13-game slate. Is he special enough to become the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy?
"I wouldn't put that on any freshman," said Griffin. "Let's just let him play, put up some big numbers and see what happens."

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