-- Virginia Coach Al Groh says there's a difference between small football players and short ones. Senior tailback Alvin Pearman is short, but his contributions to the Cavaliers have been anything but small this season.

"He's really put together," Groh said. "There are players that are small, and then there are players that are just short. He's a shorter player, but he's not a small player."

Pearman, 5 feet 9 and 204 pounds, has proved his toughness, mentally and physically, this season. He leads the ACC in all-purpose yards and is No. 10 Virginia's second-leading rusher entering Saturday's game against No. 18 Miami in Scott Stadium. In the past two games, Pearman has run 69 times for 393 yards and one touchdown.

"It's all muscle; it's all power," Groh said. "Some guys can just take it. There are bigger players that are always hurt. Part of it is just Mother Nature."

Pearman, from Charlotte, has done more than just run the football this season. In the opener against Temple, he returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown. Against North Carolina the following week, Pearman returned a kickoff 93 yards to the Tar Heels 1-yard line and ran for a touchdown on the next play.

In the Cavaliers' 31-10 win over Syracuse on Sept. 25, Pearman started the game at wide receiver because of injuries to Virginia's other wideouts. In the Cavs' next game, a 30-10 win over Clemson, Pearman returned to tailback and ran for 112 yards in the second half.

"Who's had a more dynamic season or been more important to his team than Alvin Pearman?" Groh said. "How many players have returned a punt for a touchdown, returned a kickoff for a touchdown, been on three different special teams, started a game at split end and then came back and rushed for whatever it is, 400 yards, in two consecutive conference games?

"That's pretty good football."

And Pearman has done it all while sharing playing time with junior Wali Lundy. During a three-game stretch earlier in the season, Pearman ran the ball only 27 times (and didn't run at all against Syracuse), while Lundy ran 58 times and scored nine touchdowns. But in the past three games, Pearman has emerged as the Cavaliers' primary back, running a career-high 38 times for 223 yards in a 37-16 win at Duke on Oct. 23 and 31 times for 170 yards in last week's 16-0 victory over Maryland.

"That's what we do," Pearman said. "We run the football."

Having two tailbacks -- Lundy has run 141 times for 705 yards and 14 touchdowns; Pearman 120 times for 649 yards and six touchdowns -- has helped keep them fresh, Groh said.

"It certainly enables each player to remain a lot fresher during the course of the season," Groh said. "Not just in terms of the game reps that a player takes, but, obviously, if they're going to share the reps during the game, then they're going to share them in practice, too. So every day there's less accumulated wear on the tailback when they're sharing the position."

Third-ranked Auburn has used the same approach with seniors Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and Ronnie Brown. Florida State uses the one-two punch of Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker; Minnesota has Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III; and Georgia uses freshmen Thomas Brown and Danny Ware much the same way.

"You can't hardly play a season with just one tailback," Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden said. "You have to be very lucky if you just have one tailback. I think everyone I see is trying to play more than one."

Few Virginia running backs have been as productive as Pearman during their careers. He ranks 16th in school history with 2,006 rushing yards and is one of only three players -- Frank Quayle and Terry Kirby are the others -- to have 1,000 yards or more rushing and receiving during their careers.

"Alvin is a player who, as he has shown to everybody, has great personal ambition," Groh said. "He really wants to achieve. He has a lot of goals he wants to do. Yet, with that, he has been the ultimate team player."

Cavaliers Notes: Virginia sophomore Ahmad Brooks (C.D. Hylton) yesterday was named one of three finalists for the Butkus Award, which is given to the nation's top linebacker. Seniors Matt Grootegoed of Southern California and Derrick Johnson of Texas are the other finalists. The winner will be announced Dec. 10 by the Downtown Athletic Club of Orlando. Brooks, the son of former Washington Redskins defensive tackle Perry Brooks, leads the Cavaliers with 62 tackles and is tied for the team lead with 51/2 sacks and two interceptions. . . .

Miami all-American cornerback Antrell Rolle hasn't practiced this week because of a toe injury and is wearing a protective boot on his right leg. He is questionable to play in Saturday's game. He would be replaced by Devin Hester, who started at tailback in last week's 24-17 loss to Clemson. . . . The Palm Beach Post reported Thursday that redshirt freshman Jon Beason and true freshman Romeo Davis will make their first career starts at linebacker Saturday.

"Alvin [Pearman, 21] . . . has been the ultimate team player," Cavaliers Coach Al Groh says of his senior tailback.