The Associated Press
LINCOLN, Neb. Ÿ It was a stunning development for a college program regarded as one of the nation's cleanest: Nebraska's top two running backs were arrested, accused of assaulting women in separate incidents.
Coach Tom Osborne kicked Lawrence Phillips off the defending championship team Sunday night, but hinted Monday that the junior's Nebraska career might not be over. The coach said he expected backup Damon Benning to play.
''Obviously, we've lost a great player,'' Osborne said of Phillips. ''Lawrence was playing as well as any I-back we've had in a long time ... Unfortunately, he will not play for quite a while, if at all.''
Osborne said Phillips remains on scholarship. Asked if Phillips could return, Osborne said he didn't know.
''You never say never,'' he said. '' But he's certainly got to get some things accomplished .... There's no time limit on his suspension. Obviously, if he did return, it would not be any time real soon.''
The decision means No. 2 Nebraska (2-0) will go into Saturday's home opener against Arizona State (1-1) without the 20-year-old Phillips, an early season favorite for the Heisman Trophy. Phillips rushed for 359 yards and seven touchdowns in two games.
Osborne would not say why he dismissed Phillips while other players who face charges, including Benning, remain on the team.
Phillips' whereabouts were unknown Monday. His lawyer, Hal Anderson, did not return three telephone messages Monday but said Sunday that Phillips was upset.
The team voted Monday not to talk with reporters, the sports information office said.
Phillips was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor assault of a 20-year-old woman and trespassing at the apartment of another football player: Scott Frost, a quarterback transfer from Stanford.
Police Chief Tom Casady said Phillips apparently scaled the wall to reach the third-floor balcony of the apartment. Casady said Phillips allegedly assaulted the woman with his hands, then took her downstairs to the foyer of the building, where residents were able to pull him away from the woman. Casady would not identify the woman by name but police reports say she is Katherine A. McEwen, a sophomore member of the women's basketball team.
Casady said she is out of the state for her own protection.
Benning, 21, was arrested at his Lincoln apartment early Saturday on suspicion of misdemeanor assault for allegedly grabbing a 19-year-old woman and pushing her around. He had stayed in Lincoln to recover from a pulled hamstring while the Huskers traveled to East Lansing, Mich., for a game at Michigan State.
Both players were released after posting bond. Lancaster County Attorney Gary Lacey said he did not know when he would make a decision on what formal charges will be filed.
Phillips is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday; Benning's court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 27.
Osborne said it was ''very painful'' to dismiss Phillips, who has had three brushes with the law, from the team.
''I care very much about Lawrence,'' he said. ''But it's something that needed to be done at the time, so we did it.''
NCAA officials said disciplining players in trouble with the law was the school's business. It's an area that has clouded Nebraska's football program for months.
At least five other current players have had brushes with the law over the last two years; none has been dismissed from the team. Cornerback Tyrone Williams faces felony weapons charges.
Backup receiver Riley Washington is scheduled to be back in court Wednesday on an attempted second-degree murder charge. He was ordered Friday to stand trial on the charge that stems from an Aug. 2 shooting at a Lincoln convenience store. He has practiced with the team since he was released from jail.
Osborne has said he believes Washington is innocent.
He told a sports boosters' luncheon crowd that off-field problems with his players this year have weighed on him.
''I'm a little edgy right now,'' he said. ''The standards are different. These guys are not normal college students in that they get way more credit than they deserve when they score a touchdown and they get an awful lot of grief when they do something wrong.''
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