Unhappily, I would have to agree with your friends. Everything I looked up pionts to that area. 1.)Release bearing binding on transmission shaft, 2.)Pilot bushing worn, 3.)Clutch rivets loose, 4.)clutch plate cracked, 5.)fatigued clutch plate torsion springs. Finally if your real lucky maybe the pedal needs to be adjusted for free play. On my Ford Ranger I had a very similar noise that turned out to be the pilot bearing. Good Luck.
95 YJ 2.5L AX5 30in. rubber.
So many upgrades/So little cash!!