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Winning the war against pain

By LOUIS ANASTASIS

Alligator Staff Writer
Tim Casey / Alligator Staff
Jarvis Moss was written off by fans and the media after playing sparingly since his arrival, but the defensive end is on his way to being the player he used to be.

Jarvis Moss woke up on a regular morning on a regular school day in Denton, Texas, expecting to go out and do great things.

This was a day in the senior season of one of the top defensive ends in the country. Texas loves its high school football. Ryan High sure loved its Moss, a Parade All-American and USA Today First-Team All-American.

This was supposed to be a normal morning, full of promise, hope and big hits.

There was just one problem: Jarvis Moss could not walk.

His chest tightened like a sheet of steel. His stomach hardened into a knot of excruciating pain. Moss climbed up in bed. The pain intensified. He slumped to the floor and reached for a pair of jeans.

He could not dress himself; he could not walk.

Desperate for guidance, confused beyond belief, Moss phoned Ryan coach and confidant Joey Florence.

Florence could hardly make any more sense of the situation than Moss.

"That was the crazy part," Moss said. "One day I'm at practice running like my old self, and the next day coach was the first person I called, and I told him, 'Coach, I can't walk. I don't know what's wrong with me.'"

Moss had been headed for Gainesville, where Coach Ron Zook was giddy to add a speedy, powerful, 6-foot-6 end to the defensive mix. But all of a sudden, out of nowhere, Moss was going nowhere.

Deep inside his body, a heartless, carnivorous illness was dropping anchor.

-MYSTERIOUS AILMENT TAKES TOLL-

The day before Moss awoke crippled, he had received a cortisone shot. His pelvic bone was bothering him, and he was in no mood to bail on his team and miss some games. The shot was administered into the bone; that's the only clue Moss had as to what was wrong.

Moss missed seven high school games.

"Even when I came back to play, I was still hampered by it, kind of like I would be when I got to college," Moss said. "I couldn't run well or anything like that."

Florence volunteered to take him to doctors, but it didn't matter. After every visit Moss and his coach left confused. After every episode the questions would multiply.

And so the changed player, the physically morbid player, arrived at UF in 2003 in crippled fashion.

-LOSING GROUND-

"I knew he was hurting," said defensive end Jeremy Mincey, who joined the Gators one year after Moss' arrival. "Everybody knew he was hurting."

But no one knew why. Zook described Moss' ailment as tendonitis in the knees.

Rumors began swirling. Moss' weight began plummeting. After battling with ongoing pelvic pain, Moss received a medical redshirt in 2003.

Realizing his frail physique would allow for little on the defensive line, the Gators moved him to linebacker. Moss played seven plays against Eastern Michigan in 2004. But the pain was too intense. Moss had lost too much weight. He wasn't strong enough any more.

"I just kept telling our guys, 'Hey, when he was healthy, he was a good football player,'" co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong recalled. "'Something is wrong, and you have to find out what is wrong with him.'"

His spirits falling, his hopes dwindling, Moss wished there was an answer. The weak freshman didn't get one from UF's training staff.

"I knew it was something internal, but the old trainers with the old staff were just telling me that I needed to stretch - that it was my flexibility," Moss said. "All along I knew it was something deep down inside."

-FINALLY-

Urban Meyer and his staff arrived and asked the same questions. But this time, they were going to find answers.

"He didn't look like the big strong football player that he is," said Anthony Pass, UF's head athletic trainer who is in his first season. "That was definitely a red flag for me because he was a real good kid, well-spoken and an intelligent individual. He was frustrated, and that frustrated me because I wanted to know what I could do to help this guy out."

Pass, along with trainer John Dean, dispatched four doctors to run tests and find out what the matter was. After a spring of futile attempts, one test finally bore the answer.

Blood tests revealed that Moss' sediment level was 11 times higher than average. After analyzing bone chips from his pelvis, doctors concluded that bacteria had penetrated Moss' pelvic bone during the high school injection, causing a staph infection that feasted on his body.

With Moss on the verge of quitting football and moving on, the training staff hooked him up to an IV to pump nutrients into him for six weeks. His weight increased from about 218 to 240 pounds.

"When we first put on the treatment, you just saw this kid just go from someone who was completely dejected and who was at the end of his rope just start getting some fire back into him, some hope and excitement," Pass said. "It's been a complete change."

-THE ROAD TO RECOVERY-

With meat once again on his bones, Moss has rejoined the defensive fray. He never suffered from bad knees; he had merely fallen prey to a silent assassin. Assuming he doesn't suffer additional setbacks, it is just a matter of regaining all his strength, of acclimating himself to Meyer's defense.

Saturday, in a miniature episode of redemption, Moss recorded three tackles and a sack against Kentucky.

"I was just happy inside," Moss said. "I just want to keep working to contribute to the team and doing what my coaches say."

With the physical issues out of the way, the real question becomes: How good can Moss be, anyway?

"He has great athletic ability," Mincey said. "Moss is going to be one of the best things that came through Florida."

Yet, it doesn't seem to matter how good he'll be, just as long as Moss can enjoy life. As long as he has a reason to wake up in the morning.