About a week ago in practice, Citadel running back Rickey Anderson took a pitchout from the quarterback and turned the corner.
Flying up from his safety spot came Joseph Boateng, pound-for-pound one of the hardest hitters on the Bulldogs' defense.
"Rickey dropped his shoulder pads, and Joe dropped his," recalled football coach Kevin Higgins. "And Rickey won the battle."
It was just one of many collisions during the hot August days of fall practice, but a significant moment for Anderson, the star-crossed redshirt junior from Cape Coral, Fla.
Anderson, an impressive-looking 6-0 and 201 pounds, is in his fourth year at The Citadel. But in three previous seasons, he's appeared in just five games, all of them in 2008, with a grand total of 16 carries for 66 yards and one touchdown.
The reason -- a catalog of injuries that could fill a medical textbook.
The short version reads like this: A torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee as a high school senior, a torn ACL in his right knee as a Citadel freshman, a torn meniscus in his right knee in the fifth game of the 2008 season and a broken leg suffered in preseason camp last year.
"Just incredible," Higgins said. "Three operations."
That's what made the scrimmage showdown with the 5-10, 180-pound Boateng such a key moment for Anderson.
"If we've had a defining moment in camp thus far, that was it," Higgins said. "You could see Rickey's confidence level shoot up, and the confidence of his teammates watching him."
Fellow slotback Van Dyke Jones was happy to see it.
"That was a 'He's back' statement," Jones said. "That's what everybody was looking for."
Anderson's potential has been obvious since he arrived at The Citadel in 2007. As a junior at Cape Coral High School, he rushed for 729 yards and eight touchdowns and ran the 100 meters in 10.9 seconds, drawing recruiting attention from FBS schools and verbally committing to South Florida.
But in the summer before his senior season, Anderson tore his left ACL during a 7-on-7 passing league game, starting the string of injuries that have caused him to miss 29 of 34 games at The Citadel.
The low point came last fall, when Anderson broke his leg in preseason drills, the same day Jones suffered a broken hand that kept him out of the 2009 season opener. Jones, a 5-10, 182-pound sophomore, came back to lead the Bulldogs with 420 rushing yards, but Anderson sat out the entire season.
"I said to our coaches, 'I don't think Rickey will ever play again after all he's gone through,' " Higgins said, and Anderson wasn't sure, either.
"The first couple of weeks, I was very depressed," he said. "You get very down on yourself, and wonder, 'Why me?' But it's one of those things where I feel like God has a plan."
Support from his mom, Teresa, and talks with his father, Rickey Anderson Sr., a pastor, buoyed Anderson's spirits. And according to Higgins, Anderson just doesn't have the personality to stay down for long.
"He's got great people skills and loves to be around the guys," Higgins said. "I think that was the biggest lure to come back; he didn't want to leave his teammates, as well as the game."
A healthy Anderson would be a big boost to the Bulldogs as they switch to the triple option, an offensive scheme that requires three running backs (a fullback and two slotbacks) on the field.
Anderson knows his teammates are pulling for him.
"I'm still here, by God's will," he said. "This is what I love to do, so I'm not going away until the doctors say I can't go anymore."
MEET THE BULLDOGS
What: Scrimmage/autograph session
When: 1:30 p.m. today
Where: Maybank Triplets Practice Facility on campus