By Rusty Miller Associated Press PHOENIX Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett escaped the mean streets of his youth, but the memories are never far off. Just four days before the national championship game, the 19-year-old freshman criticized school officials for failing to help him fly home to attend the funeral of a lifelong friend. I guess footballs more important than a persons life to them, Clarett said Monday. Thats why Im ready to get this game over and go back home. Clarett said he learned of his friends death more than a week ago, and asked Ohio State officials the next day if he could miss practice to return home to Youngstown, Ohio, and attend Mondays funeral. He said school officials gave him the runaround. Im kind of messed up now, because they jerked me around, Clarett said. I really wanted to go back. Im not really supposed to be here. But its cool. Things happen in life, theres bumps in the road like everything else. But Ill be all right. OSU athletic director Andy Geiger said the school could not help Clarett with funds to fly home because the paperwork required for NCAA compliance was not on file. He said other athletes have flown home using school funds and that OSU offered to reimburse Clarett once the proper forms were filled out. He elected not to do that, or couldnt afford that, or there wasnt anybody in his family who could do it. We were stuck in a place where the rule is we couldnt go forward and buy a ticket. That was upsetting to him, Geiger said. But there isnt any effort on our part to bar him from going anyplace. Clarett declined to identify his friend, who he said was shot last week. But Claretts mother, Michelle, confirmed the friend was Juaquin A. Juan Bell, 23, of Youngstown. Its a friendship they had growing up, she said. Young people need to say goodbye. Its 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 has been arrested. Clarett has talked often about the hardships of growing up in Youngstown and seeing relatives, friends and neighbors killed in senseless shootings. He recalled one more time Monday how lucky he was to get a scholarship and the opportunity to put those memories behind him. But Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who has forged a close relationship with Clarett, knew the youngster felt the sting of losing one more person who was close to him. I know hes really distraught over losing a very, very close friend. Thats even harder when youre not around when you lose someone thats very close to you. Its very difficult on you. I know hed like to be there, Tressel said. But Tressel also said that school officials never denied Clarett the opportunity to return to Youngstown. I suppose that anyones take on a situation is their own. But, no, I wouldnt call it that, Tressel said. The best thing for all involved is to say it didnt work out. Still, the coach didnt deny his star was hurting. Im real concerned because I know how close he was to the young man. Im more worried about that than issues outside that are being talked about, 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 No. 1 Miami in the Fiesta Bowl on Friday, but he said it would be difficult to keep a football game in perspective in light of what is going on back home. Clarett was a toddler when his father left home. His mother, the chief deputy clerk for the municipal court in Youngstown, raised Clarett, two brothers and 11 cousins in a three-bedroom home. Sometimes, he still feels the sting of that tough upbringing. You go through downtown Columbus, youve got people sleeping on sidewalks. ... This is wintertime, its like 19 degrees down there. Theyre sleeping in boxes and little covers, he said. It dont make any sense to me.