Cleman To Start At Tailback

Dec. 28, 2000

SEATTLE - Because of injuries to Rich Alexis, Willie Hurst and PaulArnold, the Washington Huskies are down to one healthy tailback for the RoseBowl.

So Braxton Cleman, who didn't figure in coach Rick Neuheisel's plans thisseason, will start on New Year's Day against Purdue.

'I just heard about it today,' Cleman said after practice Thursday. 'I'mvery excited.'

Arnold, who began the season as Washington's starting tailback, has beenruled out of the Rose Bowl because of a back injury that kept him out of theHuskies' final four regular-season games.

Alexis, a freshman who was Washington's leading rusher this season, has apartially separated right shoulder.

Hurst, the Huskies' No. 2 rusher this season, is still trying to recoverfully from a broken right collarbone that sidelined him in November's Apple Cupagainst Washington State.

Cleman didn't figure to play much this season because of Arnold, Alexis andHurst. He started against California at fullback because of an injury to PatConniff.

'A lot of people wrote him off,' Hurst said. 'He came from a small schooland nobody really gave him a chance. But he's proved just about all his criticswrong.'

Cleman was a running back whom Neuheisel inherited when he replaced thefired Jim Lambright two years ago. Lambright recruited Cleman from tinyOroville High School, a Class 1A school in north central Washington.

Cleman got to start at tailback in the Apple Cup because of injuries anddelivered 105 yards on 15 carries in a 51-3 victory over Washington State.

'Personally, it's been a very frustrating year for me,' he said. 'Butoverall you've got to look at it that we're 10 and 1, we're a great team andwe're ranked fourth in the nation.'

At Oroville, Cleman played before crowds of 150.

'I got a cheer here and there from my mom and dad,' he said with a smile.

At the Rose Bowl, Cleman will carry the ball before about 100,000 fans.

'Oh, yeah, I'll be nervous,' he said. 'There's going to be a lot ofpeople there, screaming fans everywhere. It's going to be something else. It'sgoing to be very exciting.'

The Huskies have taken it easy on Alexis and Hurst in pregame Rose Bowlpractices because of their injuries.

'It's been a long time since those guys have been able to go in there andmix it up,' Washington running backs coach Wayne Moses said. 'We haven't hadthe luxury to have contact with them. So really we're kind of on pins andneedles because this really is the first time those guys are going to actuallyget hit. Braxton has to come through.'

Huskies offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson shakes his head about howit's turned out for Cleman at Washington.

'That is small ball and he's come a long way,' Gilbertson said ofOroville. 'Braxton has certainly had a good career and he's had some biggames. Hopefully, Monday he has another great game.'

That's what Neuheisel is counting on, too.

'I expect him to play great,' Neuheisel said. 'With the chances he'sgoing to get, I expect him to make the most of them. He's worked hard and hedeserves it.'

By JIM COUR
AP Sports Writer

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