Justin Anderson May Be Hot Commodity

Observing Justin Anderson during the third annual Riviera Utilities Classic at Foley High School's spring jamboree reminded me of silver screen legend Paul Newman's character, Butch Cassidy, a shrewd 19th century western bank robber. Pursued by a tenacious tracker and a posse over usually insurmountable terrain, he questioned his partner in crime, the Sundance Kid, about their identity.

"Who are those guys?" "Who is that guy?" must have been the modified question opposing coaches and offensive players were asking on that Saturday afternoon in May at Ivan Jones Stadium about the omnipresent persistent performer donning the Foley Lion's jersey number 34.

If he wasn't intercepting the ball as a middle linebacker, he was rushing from the edge to disrupt the quarterback's rhythm, tipping a pass intended for the running back in the flat or blowing up a rushing play while creating a fumble.

Justin Anderson plays as if his helmet is radar equipped especially designed to zero in on the football. Gridiron satisfaction for him involves scoring defensive touchdowns as he did that day against Tuscaloosa County by returning a fumble 25 yards to the end zone. Sacking the quarterback also merits a smile from this natural defensive playmaker. Watching him compete that afternoon gave me a sense of déjà vu for another former Baldwin County linebacker known for big plays, Fairhope High School and University of Alabama co-captain 1987, Randy Rockwell. Interestingly, I met Rockwell at midfield at the conclusion of the jamboree. Just as we shook hands to say goodbye, the Foley Lions defender's appearance startled me as he does many ball carriers as I glanced to my right anticipating his arrival for the interview.

He has attracted major attention from lower level division one schools including UAB, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Northern Illinois and South Alabama who have extended offers. BCS power conference schools Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State and Clemson have expressed interest. He's made unofficial visits to Auburn three times along with trips to Mississippi State and Southern Miss.

The hybrid athlete presents an interesting situation for coaches who value the combination of 4.56 40-yard speed and a 6-3 frame carrying 238 pounds. Foley Coach Todd Watson said, "I think Justin can play at any level. He's got great explosion and great quickness and speed. He's got good technique. He's a very smart guy. We're playing him some at linebacker, some at defensive end. We're just trying to find the best ways to use his talents to help us and he hasn't disappointed us."

Watson elaborated on the underestimated prospect by emphasizing his contributions. "He's not always the guy you look at on the hoof and say ‘Hey, he's just outstanding.' But when you see him run and you see his closing speed and those type things, you figure out pretty quick that he's an athlete and can get some things done."

Coach Watson recognizes the value of the multi-talented two year starter as he said, "He always finds himself in the right position. He's so versatile and can do so many things. He long snaps on punts and PATs. He could be our number one tight end if we ran a tight end in our offense. He's a shortstop (started as sophomore) on the baseball team. He threw the shot and discuss in track (junior year). He can do a little bit of everything. We're going to count on his leadership and playmaking ability this fall."

Anderson subscribes to the "action speaks louder than words" philosophy according to Watson. Leading by example and producing on the field is the road taken by the savvy tight-lipped senior. Defenders rely on their speed to pursue, hands to ward off blockers and technique to prevail against larger bodies. Anderson excels in all three areas and attributes his excellent technique to his defensive line coach, Deric Scott. The passionate young man whose love affair with the game began when he was "four or five" years old is looking to develop his footwork and improve his pass rushing from the edge in the upcoming pre-season workouts.

Supporting over a 3.0 GPA and a 21 ACT test score, Anderson primarily has played defensive end in his career along with occasional stints at linebacker. He bench presses 315 pounds, squats 455 pounds and power cleans 320 pounds. An ability to diagnose the flow of action combined with an instinctual anticipation for the ball make Anderson a unique prospect for college recruiters. Will a coaching staff infatuated with strict measurable numbers along with a specific physique extend a scholarship invitation to a tough, smart football player with a propensity for causing turmoil for opposing offenses? Showcasing his talents at Alabama, Auburn, Florida State and possibly other university football camps across the region this summer, he aspires to convince them he belongs amongst the elite class of 2009.

Justin has respectable statistics from a fine football program. As a sophomore he had 45 tackles and last year as a junior had 67. He had 12 tackles for loss as a soph, 10 in 2007. He had six sacks in 2006 and 11 last year. He improved his quarterback pressure stats threefold, from seven as a soph to 21 as a junior. As a sophomore he had one fumble caused and one recovered and made an interception. Last year he did not have a caused fumble or interception, but had three fumble recoveries.

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