Part II: Larry Vettel Q And A With Neal Anderson

In this installment of my conversation with former Gator great Neal Anderson, we talk about the new Gator head coach, Urban Meyer, and his efforts to reach out to former Gators of all ages. We also talk about some former teammates.

LV: Neal, we've heard a lot about Urban Meyer's efforts to reach out to former Gator football players. How important is that top you and to others who have worn the uniform?

NA: It's very important. A lot of the former players just didn't have very good feeling as far as the athletic department was concerned. It's still going to take some convincing to get some of the guys back into the program so they can feel like what Urban Meyer is doing and what the Athletic Association is doing is genuine.

LV: Two months ago you and I talked at great lengths about this issue and I told you to give him some time. I thought it would be after his first season that he could make it a priority, but he has done it from day one. Does is resonate with the former players that he has made this a priority item at the very beginning of his tenure?

NA: I think it does. You have to look at it and take it at face value that the guy sent out letters. I mean you can find out when practices are, but it's special to get a personalized letter from the head coach to let you know when spring practices are going to be and what web site to check if there's going to be a change. And the letter doesn't just say to come out, it says, "come over and introduce yourself, that I'd like to meet you. You were a big part of the success of this program and I want you to be a part of the continued success." That meant a lot. I got a lot of calls from former players who just could not believe they had gotten a letter like that. Some of them had not heard anything personal from the program since they left, basically. A friend of mine, Eric Hodges (WR), who is a dentist up in Philadelphia had never heard from anyone in 20 years and he's doing very well. I think he's the kind of guy you want involved in the program so people can hear those type stories.

LV: You need to be able to tell the non-football success stories because most of the guys you sign to a scholarship will never make a dime playing at the next level.

NA: Exactly, and I think that's something the parents already know. The kids may not know because they have high goals and expectations but the parents need to see the kind what's going on, and hopefully they'll start to see the kind of family atmosphere that Florida should always have. And I think that's going to be a benefit to every aspect of Florida Football.

LV: There was a slew of former players there for the Orange and Blue game along with 58,000 others. Is that an encouraging sign about what Coach Meyer is trying to do?

NA: Oh yeah it was great to see so many former players so excited about Florida Football, not only to be excited about what the players are doing but they were excited about being part of Florida Football again. This is how it should be at an institution like the University of Florida. We should be second to none in everything we do.

LV: I remember twice calling you about coaching, especially when Florida would have an opening for a running backs coach, but you never had much of a yearning to get into coaching did you?

NA: Not really, because I understand the time commitment it takes and to do that job you have to give up a lot of time. I knew coming out of pro football that I wanted to get married and have kids and be fortunate enough to be able to spend a lot of time with them. I look forward to taking them from school, picking them up afterwards and coaching my boy's baseball team and if I were a football coach my time would be too limited to do those things.

LV: Did you ever play with anyone that you knew would be a coach?

NA: Actually two quarterbacks, Kerwin Bell and Jim Harbaugh. Kerwin, because he always had, and still has, a complete love of the game. He knows what's going on all over the field. Harbaugh was from Michigan and had an unbelievable knowledge of football and love of the game. In fact he told me he would play until they dragged him off the field and wouldn't let him play anymore. When you're around guys who have that kind of a passion you can see it, and I never had that kind of passion for the game.

LV: Tell me about the star of the "Great Wall of Florida" Lomas Brown.

NA: Lomas is one of the best people I've ever been around and one of the most talented football players. I'd run behind him any time and was fortunate to get to run behind him at Florida. Never in the pros, except for one year at the Pro Bowl when I was able to get behind him and it felt good.

LV: How cool was it to line up in the Pro Bowl right behind the guy who blocked for you in college?

NA: It was great, to be able to see him out in Hawaii, and I knew when they called a play to that side Lomas would get his block and I just had to hide behind him and wait until some daylight opened up.

LV: One interesting thing about your career is you come in here with John L. Williams, a more highly touted runner from Palatka, and he moved to fullback so you could be in the backfield together, what was that relationship like?

NA: John L. and I were very close. We never had any problems and both of us understood there could only be one tailback at a time. We were competitors, now we would compete every day at practice but we became very good friends off the field and on the field. He knew he could run the ball and I thought I could run it and the coaches made a great decision thinking they could get both of us on the field at the same time. There was never any animosity or hard feelings and in the long run it worked out best for both of us.

So often you hear/read us media types mention what a great guy some coach or former player is, and frankly it's usually a major overstatement. Not this time. Neal Anderson was not only the ideal Gator during his career, he has been the ideal Ex-Gator afterwards, giving back to the community, raising his family and endowing a scholarship at UF (in women's tennis). He is unquestionably one of the top five tailbacks in UF history. I rank him with any of the players I've ever dealt with as a person, too.


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