Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Perseverance - 1: Eryk Anders

Today, Eryk Anders is a fifth-year senior star outside linebacker on the No. #2 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide football team. He has an infant son. He's earned a degree in health studies, and he's now working on a degree in consumer science.

Two years ago, after his team beat Colorado in the Independence Bowl, he was discouraged because he sat on the bench during the entire game. He told his father that he wanted to transfer to another school. Here's the rest of the story, taken from an article by John Whisler in the November 6, 2009, San Antonio Express-News:

In some of the last words he would ever have with his son, Gayle Anders listened calmly and offered timely advice.

"You've worked too hard, come too far," he told Eryk. "You might not see it now, but everything wuill work out in the end. You can still get your degree."

Hours later, Gayle Anders, 65, was dead. He went to bed that night and never woke up, the victim of an apparent heart attack.

Eryk Anders' life was forever altered. But in the end, things have worked out well for him — just as his father promised. Anders stayed at Alabama, and now the former Smithson Valley standout is enjoying a breakout season. A fifth-year senior outside linebacker, Anders has flourished in coach Nick Saban's suffocating defense, a unit that is the main reason the Crimson Tide are off to an 8-0 start and ranked No. 3 in the nation.

In eight games, six as a starter, Anders ranks second on the team in sacks (four), fourth in total tackles (40) and first in tackles for a loss (eight). As a junior, he finished with 24 tackles primarily as a third-down pass rusher.

“I always knew I was capable of making plays,” said Anders, 22. “I just needed the opportunity.”

For a time, it appeared that opportunity might never come. After moving into the San Antonio area from Maryland as a sophomore, Anders played two seasons (2003-2004) at Smithson Valley but only one as a starter. Rangers head coach Larry Hill called Anders the definition of a late bloomer. Anders went from 12 tackles as a junior to 115 tackles, 42 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in 16 games as a senior. He earned all-district, all-area and all-state honors in helping Smithson Valley to the 2004 Class 5A Division II title game.

But because he was undersized as a 6-foot-2, 195-pound defensive tackle, Anders was overlooked by college recruiters. He earned a 1-star rating from Scout.com.

Anders planned to walk on at Ole Miss until Hill contacted an old friend, former Alabama offensive line coach Bob Connelly, who requested a tape on Anders. A couple of academic casualties created an opening, prompting then-head coach Mike Shula to offer Anders a scholarship — in June, five months after most recruits had signed letters of intent.

“In 27 years of coaching, it's the oddest recruiting story I've ever had,” Hill said. But Hill knew Anders would be successful, even if there were times when Anders doubted it himself.

Count Saban, in his third year at Alabama, as a believer now, too. “He runs extremely well,” Saban said earlier this season. “He's got very good initial quickness. He's not a real big guy, he plays bigger than he is.” Anders is listed at 6-2, 227.

Through much of his career at Alabama, he would have been satisfied with just playing at all. After redshirting his first year in 2005, Anders played mostly on special teams his next two seasons.  That's why he nearly left Alabama — until his father intervened that chilly December night at a hotel in Shreveport.

Discouraged, he didn't give up. He followed through on his father's advice. Now he's a key player in one of the most heralded football programs in the nation. The doors of opportunity are wide open for him now....

Photo courtesy of BamaOnline.com

1 comment:

Meredith Bell said...

What a fantastic story. So many life lessons in a single article: the impact your words can have on another person's choices, the power of persistence to deliver amazing results over the long-term...

I loved this: "He's not a real big guy, he plays bigger than he is." How many of us really stretch ourselves out of our comfort zones to become the person we're capable of being?