Maryland running back Michael Anderson, who was diagnosed this summer as having leukemia, is scheduled to meet today with university doctors and officials and is expected to receive clearance to play at some point this season.
"Mike's response to therapy has been dramatic," said Dr. Stephen R. Fahey, a physician with the University of Maryland Health Service. "We're going to sit down to set up a timetable to resume contact. There is a good chance Mike will be able to play this season."
Anderson, a 5-foot-9 1/2 junior tailback from DeMatha High School and Capitol Heights, has been running and lifting weights with the Terrapins since he was diagnosed as having chronic myelogenous leukemia in July, but he has not been able to participate in contact drills because his spleen was considered too swollen. With leukemia, the white blood count often is elevated, which in turn swells the spleen, making it susceptible to injury from physical contact.
"I'm ready to play right now," Anderson said prior to yesterday's practice. "I just need to get in a little better shape by practicing this week. If I get the whole week of practice behind me, I should be pretty good. I don't see any reason to wait."
Anderson, 20, has been under the care of Dr. Edward Lee of the University of Maryland Cancer Center in Baltimore. Lee initially had doubted that Anderson would be able to play this season and had recommended that he not play. But Anderson has responded so well to interferon treatments that Lee has given him permission to play.
"It's a fairly dramatic reversal," Lee said. "But the point is, nobody knows. The absolute best thing still would be not to play, because that greatly reduces the risk of an injury. But that isn't practical. Playing football is very important to Mike. The medication doesn't seem to bother him anymore. If he can practice full speed and the spleen is no longer palpable, then the risk is relatively small."
Anderson said he has overcome the fatigue he experienced during the first couple weeks of interferon treatments and now feels fine. He said he sees no great risk.
"They said the reason I couldn't play before was because my spleen was swollen," Anderson said. "Now, my spleen is down, and that was the only risk there ever was. I'm not concerned about that at all."
Fahey said the doctors will point out what risk there is and try to reduce it as much as possible. "We are putting his safety first," Fahey said. "Any athlete that takes the field takes a measured risk. We just want to be sure to make the risk as small as possible. And we will make sure Mike is well aware of the risks."
The doctors' concern was that a ruptured spleen could require emergency surgery, though Lee said that as long as the team physicians understand the situation, the risk will be lessened somewhat. If the spleen was damaged, though not in a way that required emergency surgery, Lee said Anderson might have the spleen removed anyway.
Anderson, who now weighs a bit less than his listed weight of 186, was the leading rusher in the spring game, gaining 73 yards on 17 carries. Though he would be a welcome addition to the Terrapins offense, Maryland coaches aren't rushing his return.
"I think it would take a couple weeks," Coach Joe Krivak said when asked how long it would take for Anderson to be ready to play once he received clearance. "He's been running and lifting, but he hasn't had any contact. A lot would depend on where he is as far as his running and conditioning."
"He's stayed in good shape but he has to get in football condition," running back coach Tony Whittlesey said. As for Anderson's hope that he could be ready to play against Virginia Saturday, Whittlesey said, "It's probably wishful thinking, but it's what you like to see."
Like the doctors, Anderson is also a bit surprised that he is on the verge of getting to play. "I'm surprised that it's going as fast as it is," Anderson said, "but this is how I hoped it would go."
In another development, Krivak said yesterday that in the wake of the team's offensive troubles in Saturday's 25-11 loss to Syracuse, three of the five starters on the offensive line have been moved to the second unit. Both units shared playing time Saturday in an effort to get some offense generated.
Mark Agent had been at left tackle, but Ben Jefferson is there now, with Agent working at center behind starter Bill Hughes. Richard Nelson, who started at right guard, is now at left guard, where John Rugg had been. David Amend, who had been slowed in the preseason by a pulled hamstring, moved up to the right guard spot. John Sorna had been the starter at right tackle, but Clarence Jones moved ahead of him on the depth chart.
"We were told that's how it would be until somebody beat us out," Jefferson said.
"In essence they wanted to get the guys they felt played the hardest and were coming off the ball," Amend said.
Sorna said, "It's reflective of the grades. It's hard to take, but I'll have to work my way through it and get better. The first group has enough character to bring itself back."
Asked if he thought the switch was fair, Sorna said, "It's fair according to the grades. But according to how I felt I played, then no. We didn't run that much to my side, so I never got to show my front-side run blocking, which is one of my strengths. And I didn't give up a sack."
Said Krivak, "We're just looking and trying to get the best people out there, the guys who are going to play well. We haven't made any decisions. We'll see what happens."