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Anderson battles through pain, past

Maurice Anderson has a request.

Forget about the two-inch boxcutter scar stretched across the left side of his face. Forget about the now folkloric tales of his run-in with former Cav basketball recruit Melvin Whitaker, the source of the gash and the antagonist in a tale chronicled by Sports Illustrated last February. Forget about pain in his two big toes that just won't go away. For three hours every Saturday afternoon, just watch him play football.

"I hope this year people will see my ability on the field instead of just looking at the [Whitaker] incident," Anderson said. "There are still some people who come up to me that just met me, and they're like, 'Are you the guy that got cut back then?' I tell them just watch me this year."

Two games into the 1999 campaign, it has been nearly impossible not to notice the fifth-year senior defensive tackle who is playing like a man possessed - not one scarred by his past.

"I don't even think about it," Anderson said. "I'm done with it - it's over for me."

With Whitaker only a distant memory, Anderson now focuses his attention on one thing: football. The Blackstone, Va., native recommitted himself to the game during the offseason, working on his conditioning to drop from 285 pounds to a svelte 275. The work has paid dividends, and the proof is in the numbers: 18 tackles and one sack through two contests.

"I'm in real good shape," Anderson said. "I worked really hard during the summer so I could be ready for this time of year. I've benefited from this summer - I got stronger and I got quicker."

But now another reoccurring question arises - not whether Anderson can dismiss the Whitaker incident forever, but whether he can remain healthy for the entire duration of a college football season.

Chronic pain in both big toes, or "turf toe" in football lingo, has crippled Anderson throughout his career. Though the defensive tackle has missed just one game in his last 35, he has never been fully healthy.

"He's never stayed healthy long enough," Virginia coach George Welsh said at Monday's press conference. "He has bad toes that aren't going to heal. I think he'll step up -he had a good game Saturday. Staying healthy is the key."

And right now, Anderson is the key to the entire Cavalier defense, meaning he has no choice but to stay on the field if Virginia hopes to halt anyone. With fellow defensive tackle Monsanto Pope shelved for six weeks with a torn MCL, defensive end Travis Griffith limited to six plays at Death Valley due to ankle and back pain, end Devin "Boo" Battle returning from injury and end Darryl Sanders declared academically ineligible, Anderson remains the anchor to a Virginia defensive ship that sunk early and often in Clemson.

"It's really difficult now," Anderson said. "I know I have to be the warrior right now and just go out there and do my part. Hopefully I can get the young boys to step up with me and they can bring their level of game up."

And it's not as if Anderson is 100 percent either. The aches and pains that have troubled him for over two years are still there.

"I played all of last season with my toes bothering me," Anderson said. "I just have to fight through it, just stay on the treatment. I still have problems after the games - a little throbbing."

A blue-chip, can't-miss prospect out of Nottoway High School, Anderson had all the makings of a superstar. He was a sure thing.

Things didn't work out as planned, though. Academic problems claimed him in 1993-94, and after fighting his way through Fork Union Military Academy all the way to Charlottesville, the injury bug hit. Throw in the Whitaker incident, and Anderson saw and experienced just about everything - except the kind of success he desired on the gridiron. Some would go so far as to label "Mo" a disappointment.

But 1999 is a new year, Anderson's last in blue and orange, and his final chance to forge a new identity.

"I'm not disappointed," Anderson said. "I wish that the injuries that I had wouldn't have held me back like they did. This year I'm really glad I have the opportunity to lead the defensive line. I'm thankful for that."

"Maurice really trained hard the past two years to stay away from injury," linebacker Shannon Taylor said. "He's the strongest guy on the team, one of the hardest workers and a very vocal leader. I look at Maurice, and I'm like, 'Man, if he can get through it, then I can get through it.'"

Virginia is thankful to have Anderson, who can impart enough advice, both on and off the field, to write a book of proverbs. The depleted Cav defense, which was dissected like a ravaged carcass Saturday, might want pick up a copy.

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