Each year, colleges sign a handful of "gray shirts," who sacrifice fall semesters in hopes of gaining a scholarship by spring.
Anderson made sure he and his parents Karen and Glenn Anderson wouldn't have to pay another dime. Motivated as much as dedicated, he played in all 11 games as a freshman and became a regular component in the Hogs' defense by season's end. He made 18 tackles, including 12 solos, with two tackles for loss and a pass deflection.
Now, the 19-year-old sophomore is a starter. Anderson was amazing in his first start in place of Anthony Brown (he's out for the season with an ankle injury) during last Saturday's 23-20 loss at No. 4 Georgia. He led the team with 10 tackles, two for a loss and a fumble recovery.
Not bad for a one-time walk-on.
The Hogs saw potential in Anderson, an athletic 6-foot-6, 212-pounder high school senior. They wanted to do whatever possible to get him on campus, but were running low on scholarships. Coach Houston Nutt could tell by the "look in his eyes" how much Anderson wanted to be a part of the program. After crunching some numbers, coaches figured out how to make it happen.
"I talked with his parents about (a gray shirt)," Nutt said. "I told them we wanted to sign Jamaal on signing day because he means that much to us, but we're short a few (scholarships) because of (NCAA) probation. And they were willing to help us, so it was good."
It wasn't all good for Anderson. The gray shirt offer came late in the process and he was kind of backed into a corner after holding out on a scholarship offer from Colorado. He always wanted to be a Razorback and verbally committed right away. Afterward, the reality of being a a gray shirt set in and he needed reassurance from friends and family after accepting the offer.
Hogs tight end Mark Winston, his best friend, lived down the street in Little Rock, where both attended Parkview High. Winston still was weeks away from deciding between scholarship offers to Arkansas and Florida.
"Obviously, he was kind of disappointed," Winston said. "He wasn't coming in where he thought he should be at, but the thing I like about him is that he was resilient.
"He didn't let it get him down."
It actually got Anderson more up than down. Inspired by the gray shirt, Anderson underwent an attitude adjustment. For the next six months, he hit the weight room and practice field with purpose.
"I just did my best to stay positive about it," Anderson said. "I kept working hard to make sure I earned a scholarship. I wanted to prove to them when I got here that I was worthy of being on scholarship that first semester. It motivated me to work harder than I ever have in my life."
The prove-them-wrong attitude carried over into the fall. After reporting at 220 pounds, Anderson added nearly 25 pounds during the season, a time when most players shed extra pounds from the daily drain of practice and games.
Anderson's high-protein diet was simple and came from a local nutritionist. He'd pile his plate with scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and a couple of biscuits each morning. For lunch, he usually swallowed two double hamburgers, some grilled chicken and fries.
He really pigged out at dinner. That's when meals often are catered in after practice. If it was Outback Steakhouse, he'd down a slab of steak, two chunks of chicken, a baked potato, two rolls and, the most important part, a salad with ranch dressing.
Anderson had several nights when he wasn't.
"At first, I thought I was going to burst," Anderson said. "Especially after practice, it was kind of hard for me to eat that much after I worked out. But whatever I was getting, the coaches would always say, 'That's not enough,' so I would always have to get more."
Extra weight helped Anderson against the 300-plus pound tackles in the Southeastern Conference. However, once offseason rolled around, Anderson endured some growing pains.
Now on scholarship, Anderson was unable to run 40s in the team's individual testing in early spring. His ankles were sore and his knees needed ice and treatment daily.
"I was already a step slower," said Anderson, who topped out at 262, but now plays at 255. "My legs couldn't take the weight at first and it was giving me a lot of problems, so I talked to (the nutritionist) again and he said to cut down on the protein and carbs.
"It just took some time to get used to the weight and now it's a lot better."
Anderson couldn't have been moving any better in his first start a week ago. For a defensive end to lead the team in tackles, either a lot of plays have to come his way or he has to be all over the field.
Both were true in Anderson's case. Playing all 49 snaps, Anderson had a hand in more than 20 percent of the tackles. Regardless of the performance, defensive line coach Tracy Rocker saw plenty of room for improvement. Anderson was credited with one missed assignment, one missed tackles and three loafs.
"It was a plus for Jamaal," Rocker said. "But when you look at the film, you see there's so much more he could've done. I'm proud of that effort, but he watched it and saw even more things he can do to get better.
"Those kind of games are the kind you really can build off of."
Rocker thinks he will. After all, it was his first start. Mistakes are made by veteran starters. Still, like his position coach, Anderson rarely is satisfied.
"Runs could have been stopped even shorter if we would have held our gaps or went to our gaps," Anderson said. "Just an extra two yards they made could have been stopped and those little things, if we keep doing them, could eventually turn into something big.
"It just lets me know that I've got to keep working."
Not that he ever stopped since signing on as a gray shirt.
Touch Of Gray
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