Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
OnSundays, Will Anderson Jr. loves to slip away. He’d would rather keep thelocation of his whereabouts unspecified, that is reasonable given just how much hislife has changed previously 18 months. The times of anonymous existence arefleeting.
Heseeks tranquility, which he often finds by way of a stream or pond. Always by water.This instinct has been around him since he was a kid, a long time before he became thebest defensive player in college football and a Heisman Trophy hopeful trying tochange just how we view the award.
Heand his father, Will Anderson Sr., would spend hours on the water, each tryingto out-fish another. There is competitionalways competition. But thisplace was also his escape.
Thetype of person I’m, I give so much to football, Anderson says. And I releaseeverything that’s going on when Im in nature. I pay attention to calm music andallow myself to relax. It soothes me. I could just watch the water and feel thebreeze.
OnSaturdays, Anderson is everywhere. His feet are on solid ground, and he spendsthree-plus hours chasing quarterbacks and corralling running backs. Offensivecoordinators do everything possible in order to avoid him. Offensive linemen try tostand in his path. Up to now, no-one has succeeded with regularity.
Althoughhe plays at Alabama, a location where in fact the depth chart is clogged with 5-starrecruits every year, Andersons excellence looks different. His 17.5sacks in 2021 were probably the most in the FBS. He also tallied 33.5 tacklesfor loss, 11.5 a lot more than other people.
Hisperformance earned him a fifth-place finish in the Heisman voting this past year. It alsoprompted many to question if the junior should even play college footballagain, despite the fact that he has to hold back per year to enter the NFL. The scouts already are deeply in love with the exterior linebackers game, whichprompted the rumblings surrounding his football future to cultivate louder.
He would’ve been the initial pick this past year by way of a mile, one NFL scout says aboutAnderson. Zero debate. With several quarterbacks in the mix, he might notgo No. 1 next spring. If you don’t are in need of a quarterback, passing onhim is really a huge mistake.
In B/R’s latest mock draft, he’s next year’s No. 1 overall pick. Shop around, and you’ll be hard-pressed to get any outlet it doesn’t envision him being selected in the top three picks.
Andersonstill has his eyes on something more. On unfulfilled goals. On history. Onbuilding another great Alabama defense. On a national championship andanother run at the Heisman. The idea of sitting out couldnt have beenfurther from reality.
Thatsnot in my own mentality to achieve that, Anderson says. I really like footballtoo much. God includes a arrange for me, and he wants me here. I’m committed. I amall-in. Its an honor playing here.
Fora player who has recently accomplished so much, there’s still a lot more hewishes to accomplish.
Footballstarted being an outlet. More specifically, in accordance with his mother, TereonAnderson, Football was ways to move away from those girls.
Thesedays, Anderson and his five sisters share a bond no story could possiblyilluminate. But in the past, when Anderson was just four yrs . old, he neededsomething different. Football was it.
First,there is Shawnta. Then came Shanice. Then, Chyna was created. After her, Endiaand Teria joined the household. His parents had always planned for a boy, althoughthose plans were placed on pause five times in a row.
Mywife said if so when we’d a boy, he’d be considered a Junior, Anderson Sr.says. But if this last one wasnt a boy, I’d need to find one somewhereelse. God finally blessed us with a boy.
Likemost houses with small children, there is chaos. There have been disagreements.There is also love and a dedication one to the other.
Everyonehad somebody. The teenagers looked out because of their younger siblings. Theypushed them; they guided them. These were accountable to and for just one another.
Inthe instance of Will, his sisters made football possible. With both parentsoften at the job, they would make sure that he surely got to and from practice. When theywatched him play, they demanded more from him on the field.
Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Theyalso protected their younger brother. And spoiled him constantly, theirmother adds.
Asthey grew older, the standards didnt change. Neither did the bond. On the cuspof a lot more, the relationships between your family have only grownand evolved.
Myfamily has meant everything if you ask me throughout all of this, he says. They madesure I had everything. There’s so much love, and I appreciate them so much.Without them, I wouldnt be here at this time.
Inanother universe, Anderson continues to be playing fullback.
Infact, for a lot of his football life, this is the only put on the field hewanted to be. He was raised with the ball in his hands. Defense was never on theradar.
That has been, until Clifford Fedd was named the headcoach at Dutchtown SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL in Hampton, Georgia, in the wintertime of 2017. Feddknew he was a particular athlete almost immediately.
After in regards to a month, perhaps a month-and-a-half ofbeing there, I knew he was a dude, Fedd says.
Given Andersons size, Will Rogers, Feddsdefensive coordinator, asked Anderson if he’d be ready to switchpositions. They thought his size and physical gifts were tailor-made for thedefensive line.
He was distraught, Fedd recalls. He didntwant to be called a defensive end. He wished to be called a fullback.
While Will and his father didnt love the theory,Tereon was minimal and only the move.
Iwas unhappy, she adds. We dont play defense. We play offense. But theytold me to trust them, and I did so. May also was ready to test it out for. Oncehe learned what he had a need to do, he never looked back.
Overthe span of another two seasons, Anderson grew into his new role. By the endof his recruitment, he was ranked as 247Sports No. 5 overall player in theclass of 2020.
Beforethen, however, some teams shared concerns over his size and what position hewould ultimately match. Clemson told Fedd it didnt have room at defensiveend. Georgia hardly ever really got involved, despite being in Andersons home state.
Alabamaultimately sent ace recruiter Sal Sunseri to obtain eyes on Anderson, who was simply listed at 6’3″, 230 pounds as a recruit. It had been abattle of who was simply smiling the largest, Fedd recalls on both meeting.
Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Soon,an ideal football marriage was made between a new player and program. Although hismother urged her son to take his time and size up all options beforecommitting, Andersons mind was composed.
Alabamawas the area I would have the ability to surround myself with individuals who havethe same mentality as me, Anderson recalls. They hold themselves to a certainstandard here. I came here to compete keenly against the best each day, and thatswhat Ive done.
Whenhe arrived as a genuine freshman, suddenly having an abundance of hype, Andersonlearned in early stages what he was against.
Afterlifting weights 1 day as a freshman, he was approached by Alex Leatherwood, aformer standout offensive lineman with the institution. Anderson thoughtLeatherwood was going to provide him words of encouragement or take him under hiswing.
Hetold me that whenever we can get on the field for spring ball, he would f–k meup, Anderson recalls through laughter. I knew it had been going to be considered a differenttype of ballgame, and I was ready.
Before last season began, Anderson took a little,laminated little bit of paper and put it in the protectivecase that shields his iPhone. Onto it, hed written his goals for the upcomingseason.
Not once through the year did Andersonever need to take away the item; he knew that which was written on that little bit of paper,word after word. Often when he reached for his cellphone, however, he wouldthink about them.
Imet every goal but one, Anderson says.
Thelone goal Anderson didn’t achieve? He didnt win the Bednarik Trophy, theaward directed at the sports best defensive player. That honor visited Georgiadefensive lineman Jordan Davis.
Outside that, Anderson delivered probably the most productive, disruptive seasons alinebacker has ever delivered.
Foras brilliant as his 2021 season was, you can view it coming. He started as atrue freshman for Alabama in 2020something Nick Saban has rarely done sincearriving in Tuscaloosa in 2007and he finished the entire year with seven sacks and 10.5tackles for loss.
Thiswas only a foundation for Anderson, whose body and understanding of the positionevolved in light-years before his sophomore year.
Istarted preparing so difficult in practice that whenever I got eventually to the games it feltlike practice, Anderson says. I knew what I would expect. I started toplay so considerably faster when I did so that. The overall game just started coming a whole lot easierto me.
Andersonhad multiple tackles for loss in every but four games this past year. He previously afour-sack game against Mississippi State. He was constantly schemed against,nonetheless it found naught.
Nearthe end of the growing season, Alabamas Heisman-winning quarterback appeared to commandmuch of the spotlight. But all along, Anderson excelled.
BryceYoung ultimately won the Heisman by an overwhelming margin. Anderson pushed forthe award but was struggling to catapult to the very best of enough ballots. Still, hisfifth-place finish was rarefied air for a defensive player, especially a truesophomore.
AP Photo/Vasha Hunt, File
Ithought about any of it a whole lot, and Im just likely to put it on the market, his fathersays. Personally i think confident hes likely to win the Heisman. Ive seen his gameelevate every year, and I believe its likely to elevate even higher this season.
Andersonisnt unacquainted with the hype, nor does he shy from the chance. Its not inhis nature to predict a Heisman triumphsomething only 1 defensive player,Charles Woodson, did in the sports history. Woodsons extended reps onspecial teams and offense ultimately paved a path.
Inall likelihood, Anderson wont have that luxury. If he could be to win the Heisman,it’ll come due to what hes done on the defensive side of the ball.
Iwould be very grateful easily could win the award, but I consider it a littlebigger than that, Anderson says. Its not merely simply for me. I’m carrying it out forall defensive players and the task that’s being devote. If the Heisman isreally to get the best player on the market, a defensive player should win the award.
Whetherwinning the Heisman is on that small, laminated little bit of a paper tucked insidehis phone case will stay unknown for the present time.
Wewill see, he says through laughter, unwilling to tip his hand. Although giveneverything he’s accomplished in mere 2 yrs, there arent manymountains left to climb.
OnSaturday, Andersons junior season officially began. In a 55-0 blowout win overUtah State, he delivered one tackle for loss. Given the lopsided natureof the scoreboard, his day ended early.
Hewill be asked more this Saturday when Alabama travels toAustin to defend myself against Texas in a rematch of the 2009 BCS NationalChampionship.
Officially,the conversations that lingered concerning the chance for him skipping hisjunior year have ended. The truth is, they never carried any weight.
Wenever discussed it, his father says. I understand who’ll is. He wont sit out. Ifhe might help it, he wont miss an individual game. Hell make an effort to play hurt before hesits out.
Notsince Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolinas former superstar defensive end and the No. 1 overall pick in 2014,gets the buzz over a defensive players future been so robust.
Sincehis freshman year, NFL teams experienced their eyes on Anderson. They haven’tstopped watching since.
“Simplyput, Anderson may be the most disruptive edge-defender we’ve seen thiscentury, B/R draft analyst Brent Sobleski said. “Any knock on Anderson’sgame at this time will be considered nitpicking since he’s consistently thebest player on the field.”
Much like the Heisman, Anderson isn’t numb to the conversation about his footballfuture. He knows what includes playing at Alabama. It’s largely why he landedthere in the first place.
Hisparents understand why component aswell. When asked concerning the NFL,however, Anderson Sr. is more wanting to talk about the truth that his son ispoised to earn his degree in December.
Thepresent is obviously more chaotic than its ever been for the whole family,but there exists a little bit of it that everyone seems completely contentto hold on to.
Ata time once the sport is moving faster than it ever has, Anderson seems happyand motivated. As do those around him. Fame and fortune can wait a whilelonger.
Asa parent, Im watching my son realize his dreams, Tereon says. I ask myselfif that is really happening. Dont pinch me; I dont desire to wake up. I’d like tostay the following in this moment, so proud therefore full.
Nomatter how this season finishesno matter just how many goals on his laminated paperare metwe are watching the start of the end of 1 of thegreatest careers a collegiate linebacker has ever produced.
Thereis an urgency to catch every moment and every tackle behind the line ofscrimmage. This isnt just greatness; it is a degree of football excellencereserved for hardly any.
Sundaysare coming, plus they are coming quickly. The times of escaping to a nearby lakewill soon cave in to what may very well be an extended and prosperous NFLcareer.
Indue time, Anderson will need to look for a new day and setting for serenity. Untilthen, however, he could be exactly where he could be designed to be.