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Louisville put the pads on Wednesday night for the first time this spring, and the opening play in the full-contact, 11-on-11 drill was a predictable one. Victor Anderson took a handoff, cut to his right and was met head-on by a defensive back near the sideline.
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|Victor Anderson was the Big East's rookie of the year in 2008.|
Anderson popped up from his first big hit since December smiling and bobbing his head.
"You can't let them know that you're hurting even if you are hurt," he said. "If you go out there grimacing in pain and let them see it on your face, then they're going to look at you and say, 'All right, he's hurt. Let's take it to him.' So you have to come out and have fun with the game."
Anderson's willingness to embrace a pounding should come in handy this season. After his stirring freshman debut, the Cardinals will be asking for even more from him in his encore.
The Big East's rookie of the year in 2008 ranked fifth in the league with 1,047 rushing yards. His average of 5.7 yards per carry matched Connecticut's Donald Brown and was higher that Pitt's LeSean McCoy and Syracuse's Curtis Brinkley. Louisville hadn't had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2005.
With no proven quarterbacks and few recognizable stars, the Cardinals will likely put the ball in Anderson's hands as much as possible in 2009.
"Coach (Steve Kragthorpe) kind of mentioned that he'd like me to take a little more carries this year," Anderson said. "I might have to take a beating a little bit more."
Anderson played in all 12 games last year and averaged 15 carries per game. Only once, against Syracuse when he ran it 23 times, did he have as many as 20 rushing attempts in a game.
Kragthorpe told the 5-foot-9 Anderson to pack on some pounds in the offseason to get ready for a heavier load. During his senior year at Louisville's St. Xavier High School, Anderson weighed 168 pounds. He was listed at 182 pounds at the end of last season. On Wednesday night, he said he weighed 187 with a target of 192 by the season opener.
He's one of the fastest and shiftiest guys on the team, but Anderson continually surprises defenders by how physical he is, too.
"They say, 'All right, he's little, he's just going to try to beat us outside and outrun us,'" he said. "So you've got to go out with the mentality like you're 210. I run the ball and try to punish the defenders the way they think they're going to punish me. They think I'm small, but I've got a big heart."
He won't just be getting the ball on handoffs, either. Kragthorpe has taken over as offensive coordinator this season, and he has talked about using the running backs more in the passing game, a notion that has been reinforced with the short routes the team has been employing in spring practice so far.
Anderson showed he's a capable receiver last year. He tied for fourth on the team with 18 catches for 101 yards, including a memorable 18-yard, shake-and-bake touchdown against Connecticut.
"When you get to catch the ball, you get a better understanding of where guys are coming from and get to see the field a lot more," he said. "That's awesome for a back. From what we've put in so far, it looks like it could be a decent part of the offense."
Throwing the ball to the running backs not only gives Anderson more opportunities. It also reduces pressure on the green quarterbacks.
"We can throw it to Vic and let him run 40 yards," said junior Tyler Wolfe, one of the quarterback candidates. "That's just as good as a 40-yard throw."
Anderson tried to fit in last year as the offense had senior leaders like quarterback Hunter Cantwell and center Eric Wood. As part of a much younger unit this season, he said, he's trying to take a role that befits his stardom.
"Last year, I didn't talk to that many guys," he said. "This year, I've been trying to talk to each guy individually whenever I get a chance. Let them know that last season is behind us, and we're going to make it to a bowl game this year.
"I've really never been a vocal leader in my life. It's something I've been working on."
He already says most of the right things. Anderson rarely conducts an interview without profusely crediting his offensive linemen and other teammates for making his gains possible. Now it's just a matter of seeing what kind of gains he can make in Year Two.
"We've seen how good he can play and how explosive he is," Louisville running backs coach Greg Nord said. "Once you realize you can be as good as he showed he was last year, now you can start refining some of your skills and push harder to reach even higher heights."