CHARLOTTESVILLE, AUG. 20 -- Terry Kirby's battle scars are not exactly the material from which great war stories are woven.
The Virginia Cavaliers' sophomore tailback wears a four-inch scar on his wrist, a product of colliding with his mother's groceries while playing basketball in the carport. His eyebrow shows the mark of a baseball bat, which branded his forehead in a sandlot baseball game. The crowning blemish is the remnant of a 60-stitch ankle needlepoint necessitated by a childhood minibike accident.
Natural 20/100 vision in Kirby's right eye ended his baseball career, leaving him blind to the spin of a curveball. So, for now, he has settled in as Virginia's latest answer to Bo Jackson -- a 6-foot-3, 210-pound, streak-shooting, power-running, sophomore guard-tailback with darting quickness and a flair for the dramatic.
As a freshman, Kirby showed flashes of the player who rushed for 2,168 yards and averaged 28 points a game his senior year of high school en route to Virginia state AA player of the year honors in both football and basketball. Last season Kirby racked up 95 yards on five carries outdoors against Maryland and poured in 18 points in seven minutes indoors against North Carolina State.
His more common accomplishment was the fulfillment of a desire to be "just another freshman," a seemingly impossible wish for the 1988 consensus national high school football player of the year who was greeted here with expectations not seen since 7-4 Ralph Sampson's arrival a decade earlier.
Recruiters began contacting Kirby as an eighth-grader, the West Virginia football office the first to reach him by mail and then-Maryland basketball coach Lefty Driesell the inaugural caller. The phone rang so often four years later that Kirby changed his number three times in the six months leading up to his signing with Virginia. But his first competitive sports injury put a damper on his freshman football season, a freak non-contact rib pull against William and Mary in Week 5 that put him out for three games -- his first time on any disabled list.
"It was terrible," Kirby said. "I couldn't walk, couldn't breathe. If it wasn't for everyone talking me through it, I don't know what I would have done."
After being the nation's most sought-after recruit of 1988, Kirby did not even win the Bill Dudley Award as the Cavaliers' outstanding freshman. That went to defensive end Chris Slade, Kirby's distant cousin who spent the better part of his four years at Tabb (Va.) High School sacking and rebounding in the shadow of Kirby's record-breaking statistics.
The outspoken Slade already talks of captaining the team and leading Virginia to new heights. But Kirby is taciturn, reveling in his status as just another sophomore.
"I'm just another player, and I like that," he said.
Kirby eased back from the injury list as Marcus Wilson's understudy, gaining 159 yards on his last 13 carries of the season against Maryland and Illinois. That role might have been repeated this year, but Wilson forfeited his remaining eligibility and was drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders.
His departure still might not make a starter out of Kirby. Coach George Welsh insists Kirby will have to compete for the job with junior Nikki Fisher, who rushed for 329 yards as a freshman before injuries last year buried him behind Wilson and Kirby.
"Terry had some great statistics coming out of high school, but he's had to do a lot more thinking here," cornerback Jason Wallace said. "We weren't expecting to see Walter Payton coming through the line. . . . He's a link, a critical link, but just one of many that has to gel with the rest of the offense."
Forturnately for Kirby, the challenge of competing as a two-sport athlete at Virginia was conquered long before his arrival. Football teammates Matt Blundin and Mark Cooke have played basketball and wide receiver Herman Moore is the ACC's high-jump champion. Virginia soccer player Tony Meola also played baseball before leaving school to join the U.S. World Cup soccer team.
"Last year, Matt, Mark and I would look at each other and say, 'Why are we doing this?' " Kirby said. "And especially when that horn goes off at 7 o'clock every morning, I'm like, 'Why am I here?' but it's that drive, that love -- I want to be out there."
Welsh has made no secret of his displeasure that Blundin was too exhausted to participate in spring practice, and Kirby concedes that he does not know if he will be able to moonlight as a basketball player for four years.
"It's going to be tough to do that year after year," Welsh said. "You see what's happened to Blundin. . . . The rigors of the last two years have worn him down."
But while Kirby hints at downshifting to one sport in college, his eyes light up at the thought of a dual professional career.
"Maybe I could have a deal where I play basketball during the week and football on Sunday," he said. "It could be done." Teammates say he hasn't worn out yet and Welsh admits that a season of basketball has helped Kirby's quickness.
When he feels an additional need for speed, Kirby delves into a sport that even Bo doesn't know -- dirt bikes. His father disposed of his boyhood minibike, but Kirby bought a new one once the memories of the earlier accident passed.
"I like to do things fast," Kirby said. "When I'm on that dirt bike I feel like I'm on the top of the world."
Or at least like just another sophomore.