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GOLDEN RETURN

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

She left UCLA as a patriot. He left UCLA as a scoundrel.

Andrea Anderson’s story is a warm and fuzzy one.

She dreamed of wearing the red, white and blue. She withdrew from UCLA, leaving family and friends behind to train in Florida and Missouri. She won a spot on the U.S. Olympic track team, on the 1,600-meter relay squad, and won a gold medal in Sydney.

Marques Anderson’s story is a cold and hard one, at least at first glance.

He got kicked out of UCLA, branded a cheat with an attitude and a discipline problem.

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When Andrea returned to UCLA, everyone had questions for her: What does it feel like to win a gold medal? How much fun did you have in Australia? Hey, can I see your medal?

When Marques returned to UCLA, everyone had questions for him: What does it feel like to get booted from school? Can you stay out of trouble this time? Are you willing to develop your God-given ability, not just coast on it?

He answered the last two questions resoundingly in the affirmative. Since involuntarily missing the 1999 season, Marques Anderson, a junior safety, has emerged as perhaps the best pro prospect on the Bruin football team.

Andrea Anderson won gold, but her brother’s performance--on and off the field--is the one that impressed her most this year.

“I have seen him become a man in front of my eyes,” said Andrea, a senior. “Every day, I want to make him proud, because he makes me proud.”

*

It sounds corny, really. The cell phone rings, the football hero answers. Who could be calling this big man on campus? A teammate, wanting to get a pizza? A woman, hoping for a date?

No, just his big sister, checking in to say hello, making sure all is well. She calls him, or he calls her, at least once a day.

“If anything happens, he’s the first person to tell me,” Andrea said.

Well, almost anything. In the summer of 1999, when the dean of students dismissed Marques from UCLA, he did not call his sister.

“He doesn’t like to tell me disappointing stuff,” Andrea said. “I have to hear it through the grapevine.”

At the same time, Andrea was competing at the world track and field championships in Spain, Marques was getting kicked out of school. Andrea had brought honor and glory to the family name; Marques had brought shame.

In Long Beach, where his father is a prominent real estate broker, news of Anderson’s dismissal was splashed across the front page of the hometown Press-Telegram.

“Right next to the railroad killer,” Marques said.

“That doesn’t just reflect on me. That reflects on my family and my sister and everybody that’s important to me. I felt like I let my family down, totally.”

Marques was one of 11 players suspended for two games for acquiring and abusing handicapped-parking permits. He was the only one summoned to the dean’s office.

Marques had been in trouble during his freshman year too, for a “childish mistake” he declines to identify. The dean had put him on notice.

So when Marques got caught in the parking scandal, the dean noticed. The other players would stay in school, serve their suspensions and rejoin the team. On the first day of practice, not long after Marques had finished unpacking his clothes and moving into his dorm room, the dean told him to pack up and get out.

The fall quarter, and the football season, would go on without him.

*

The Bruins had games to play. The coaches had players to worry about. Marques was not one of them.

“He needed to be accountable on his own,” defensive coordinator Bob Field said. “He didn’t need somebody to tell him what he needed to do every day.”

He knew. He moved back in with his parents. He enrolled at Compton College, earning enough credits to account for two quarters at UCLA. He ran. He lifted weights. He attended Bruin home games, sitting in the stands next to injured teammate Jason Bell.

“He had this fire in his eyes,” Bell said. “He was ready to explode. Every game. He had that fire every game.”

Marques didn’t need somebody to tell him what to do, but he did need somebody to listen.

He called Andrea, of course.

“Every day,” she said. “He was very determined. He said, ‘I’m going to come back. I’m going to show them that I can do it, that I can work hard, that I have what it takes.’

“Every day. I never stopped hearing it.”

The dean, not the coaches, had kicked Marques out of school. The dean approved his return for the winter quarter, and Marques made the honor roll.

But that did not obligate the coaches to take him back, or to play him. He, for once, pushed himself for the coaches.

In his first season, he had been a freshman All-American. As a sophomore, Coach Bob Toledo said, he drifted into complacency.

Said Marques, “I never had to go through the hell that a lot of players had to go through to really appreciate the game.

“I never had to redshirt. When you come in and you start and you’re an All-American, who can tell you anything?

“When I got suspended, I realized this is precious, that I can’t just do whatever I want and still have the glory of playing football. In a way, I’m kind of glad it happened. If I had kept going the way I was going, I don’t think I would have ever gotten to the point where I was mature enough to go to the next level.”

*

Receiver Freddie Mitchell might be the most polished Bruin, but Anderson has the tools that make NFL teams drool. He hits with unrivaled ferocity. He lifts weights with the linemen, and he sprints with the receivers. Hall of famer Ronnie Lott, father of UCLA linebacker Ryan Nece, has told Anderson he can play on Sundays.

“I haven’t heard my father praise too many players, but he’s said a lot of great things about Marques and his abilities,” Nece said.

Anderson, who plans to return for his senior season, led the Bruins in sacks and was second in tackles. He recovered four fumbles, forced three and intercepted two passes.

He also led the team in smiles, laughs and pranks.

“If you walked into the locker room right now, Marques would be doing something funny,” Nece said.

Said cornerback Ricky Manning, “I try to stay on his good side because, when he gets started, he never stops.”

Now, Toledo calls him a team leader.

“There’s no question that what happened to him sparked a little light in him,” Toledo said.

Growing up, and to this day, Marques cheers for Andrea at track meets, and she roots him on at football games. Once, when Andrea left town and won a medal at the Junior Olympics, she called Marques at 3 a.m. to share the good news.

“I just broke down in tears,” Marques said. “I know how much hard work and dedication went into that, and I know how much I love her. For her to reap that kind of reward overwhelmed me.”

Andrea was no less impressed by the maturity and determination her brother exemplified in not only returning to UCLA, but returning to star at UCLA. He couldn’t join her in Sydney, since the Bruins already had started their season, but she was so proud of him she promised to win something for him.

She won something gold.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

SUN BOWL

FRIDAY

at El Paso

UCLA

(6-5)

vs.

Wisconsin

(8-4)

11 a.m.

Channel 2

Payout:

$1 million


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