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Injuries place Stukes' career on hold

Has Dwayne Stukes violated some ancient supernatural credo? Is he living on Indian burial ground? Probably not.

But for whatever reason, a pair of freak injuries have left the fifth-year senior cornerback watching the vast majority of the last two seasons of Virginia football from the sidelines.

Last season it was a hamstring injury, which significantly limited both his playing time and effectiveness for most of 1998. After recovering from that injury, Stukes underwent minor surgery on his right ankle, which forced him to miss the spring game. However, he came back at 100 percent for the season opener against North Carolina.

Then, midway through the second quarter with Stukes dropped back into pass coverage, Ronald Curry threw his way. The pass fell incomplete. Stukes fell too.

Later, he was diagnosed with an injury to the muscle that connects his hip flexor and quadricep.

Without that muscle, Stukes explained, you lose your sprinting ability.

"You need your quad/flexor to explode," he said. "If I can't explode, I'm not important. If I don't explode, I'm going to get beat."

So for now, Stukes is forced to watch, rather than participate, in his final Cavalier season.

"It's real tough - it's eating me up inside," he said. "I'm an emotional person. After the Carolina game when I got hurt, I cried, I'm not ashamed to say that. But I can't walk around like a little baby. There's definitely a chance to get back this year."

The nature of the injury has brought added frustration for Stukes. Even with a major knee injury, trainers can estimate how long an athlete will be out of commission. Stukes' injury, however, remains day-to-day.

"You can't plan for a hip flexor quad," Stukes said. "If I say I'll be back for Virginia Tech and something happens during the week, I might not be back until Duke or until Georgia Tech."

While there's no telling exactly when Stukes will be back, he's confident that the injury will not put him out for the season. In fact, Stukes could play against Brigham Young Saturday, depending on how the muscle feels.

"I'm jogging and I'm running now," he said. "If it was season-ending, I'd be sitting home and eating donuts."

One thing Stukes said he wants to avoid is the temptation to come back before he is fully ready.

"I'm definitely going to take my time and get it right," Stukes said. "Why risk hurting my leg and hurting the team?"

Stukes learned that lesson the hard way last season. Still slowed by his hamstring injury, Stukes decided to play at Georgia Tech last Oct. 17. The result? Yellow Jacket wideout Dez White consistently burned Stukes totaling 243 yards receiving, a Jacket record, on just six catches. Three of those receptions went for touchdowns, including the game-winner.

"Last year I learned patience," Stukes said. "I learned you couldn't play a Georgia Tech or a Florida State at 80 percent."

Experiencing a game like Georgia Tech's 41-38 victory last year might be bad. But for Stukes, the 33-14 loss to Clemson Sept. 11 might be worse. Stukes and safety Antwan Harris, who was out with a bad hamstring, watched that game in Charlottesville on TV.

"It hurts" to watch that, Stukes said. "I think it would've been a different game. I can't say if we would've won, but I definitely think it would've been a different situation if we were out there."

In Stukes and Harris' absence, however, younger defensive backs like Chris Williams, Shenard Newby, Jermaine Lauzon and Jerton Evans have all seen significant playing time - and each made big plays.

But Stukes said he isn't surprised.

"If you're a good athlete, you're gonna figure it out," he said. "If you want to be good, you have to make the plays. These guys are getting key experience. Maybe this is what's best for them."

Still, with the high-powered air attack of the Cougars looming, the return of Stukes, Harris or both could provide a major boost to the Cavalier secondary.

"It probably would be better to have an experienced person back there" for the Brigham Young game, Williams said.

Despite all of his problems, Stukes shuns the label that he is injury-prone, or that his physical problems in college will hurt his chances for the NFL.

"I can't really say that" I'm injury-prone, Stukes said. "If that were the case, I'd be hurt every preseason and every spring and I'm not.

"The important thing for the NFL is dependability," he said. "They're not going to want somebody who keeps getting hurt. But Mel Kiper and those two guys on ESPN, what they think doesn't matter to me. I don't care what people think about Dwayne Stukes."

For now, however, the pros lie far away. Stukes' main priority is to get back on the field for Virginia while he still can. And while the waiting has been tough, Stukes said he knows everything will work out.

"When it first happened, I wanted to question, 'why me?'" he said. "But I'm not in it alone. My mother's frustrated along with me, my father's frustrated. I know God has a plan for me."