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Osborne makes suspension of Phillips indefinite

(c) 1995 Copyright The News and Observer Publishing Co.
(c) 1995 Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (Sep 13, 1995 - 17:18 EDT) -- Nebraska coach Tom Osborne said he changed the dismissal of Lawrence Phillips to an indefinite suspension because he was worried what his star running back might do to himself.

"Frankly, on Sunday, I thought I would never see him again," Osborne said. "I was afraid of what he might do to himself because I knew he thought he'd blown it. I was relieved when I finally heard from him."

Phillips, a Heisman Trophy contender, pleaded innocent Tuesday to misdemeanor charges of assault, trespassing and destruction of property. He is accused of assaulting an ex-girlfriend, Katherine McEwen, a 20-year-old Nebraska basketball player. Police said McEwen is out of state for her protection.

Osborne announced within two hours of Phillips' arrest Sunday night that the junior from West Covina, Calif., was dismissed from the defending national champions.

On Monday and Tuesday, however, he said Phillips may play again this season, provided he makes certain, undisclosed, amends. Phillips faces a Nov. 17 trial.

A consistent pattern emerged as the coach discussed Phillips and other Nebraska players who have had encounters with the law: Osborne talks to the player and others involved and makes his own decision on eligibility.

For example:

-- Backup receiver Riley Washington is charged with attempted murder following an Aug. 2 shooting. Osborne visits Washington in jail, talks with other witnesses, including former Huskers receiver and current coaches' aide Abdul Muhammad, and allows Washington to practice. He says he believes Washington is innocent and should be able to practice at least until his trial. Lancaster County District Judge Donald Endacott today set trial for the October 23rd jury term.

-- No. 2 tailback Damon Benning is arrested Saturday on suspicion of misdemeanor assault. Police say he allegedly attacked a 19-year-old former girlfriend at his apartment. Benning says the woman arrived demanding photos and threatening to damage his car. Benning says any contact he had with her was to keep her away from him. Osborne talks with Benning and witnesses and says he believes Benning was defending himself. He declares the player eligible.

The pattern holds for Phillips. Osborne said he talked with Phillips and McEwen and her family and agreed there had been an assault.

Osborne says it would be best for Phillips -- and McEwen -- if Phillips remains a football player.

"I think if you remove the possibility that he can ever rejoin the football team, than you might really damage the possibility of Lawrence being all he can be," Osborne said. "I'm not sure that (kicking him off permanently) would enhance the young lady's situation.

"If Lawrence is around the program and I'm dealing with him, and he's getting counseling, it makes her situation better than if he's detached from the program."

No. 2 Nebraska (2-0) is at home Saturday against Arizona State (1-1).




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