He worked so hard to get back. Physically he did everything right. Mentally he never got discouraged. A broken leg wasn’t going to stop Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson from accomplishing his goals in Norman.
Entering his redshirt freshman season, he was ready. He made it back. One year erased, but that’s OK. But two? You would think that would be another story.
Unfortunately, that has been the story of Anderson since arriving in Norman in 2015. A sprained MCL during his initial spring practices. A broken leg in the second game of his career at Tennessee and then a freak neck injury during fall camp that sidelined him for the entire 2016 season.
“I got up and jogged off the field,” said Anderson in telling the story of his neck injury. “I didn’t know it was hurt until the next day. The X-rays were cool. Then they told me to get an MRI the next day. That said otherwise.”
Just like that, the struggle to return to where he was before, well, he would have to do it again. Anderson said he was in the neck brace for the next three months 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It made simple things like sleeping a challenge, but he got through it.
As he had done before with the leg injury, a broken bone in his neck wasn’t going to deter him. No surgery, just time needed to recuperate. When asked about the thought of quitting, Anderson quickly shot it down.
“Nah, never,” Anderson said.
Coming out of Katy (Texas) High for the 2015 class, Anderson was one of the most highly touted running backs in the nation. Also among the quietest. In this day and age where everybody posts on Twitter, Anderson was without a Twitter account then and still without one now.
He would let his play do the talking. Through two years in Norman, though, he hasn’t been granted that opportunity.
Survived the road back once. Now he’s done it again.
“He’s handled it well,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “It would be tough to say I know what he’s gone through, but he sat out for two years now. He’s a heck of a guy.
“He’s such a great teammate and he’s a leader. For a guy to be a leader that hasn’t really played, it shows something about his character. It’s been tough on him to not play but it’s finally his time to shine and he’s worked really hard for it.
“He’s definitely a specimen.”
Chances are obviously there for any running back wearing the crimson and cream. Where Anderson would have played third fiddle (rightfully so) to Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon in 2016, it’s not crazy to suggest Anderson being the starter for OU and certainly a fixture in the rotation.
One look at Anderson, and it’s easy to see he never got down on himself. In the best physical shape of his life, he looks completely different compared to the player OU fans saw last spring. Stronger than ever before, the focus never went away.
“The mental aspect came whenever he told me I wasn’t going to be able to play,” Anderson said. “I sat out the first year and then he told me I couldn’t play the second year. It really hurt. But I relied on god and my family. They helped me get through it.”
As for his sculpted physique, Anderson explained that by simply saying “I don’t miss workouts.”
Anderson isn’t missing spring workouts, but he’s not getting hit, either. Head coach Bob Stoops said before practices began they would intentionally limit what Anderson would do.
He has been participating in all the drills until it’s time to go live. Wearing a green non-contact jersey, which he said he hates, Anderson isn’t going to take a hit all spring.
“Shoot, he’s a freak. How about that? He’s one of the most gifted guys that we have,” offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “On Schmitty’s test, he’s at the top or near the top in everything. He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s smart.
“Every quality you’d put down for a great running back or just a great football player, he checks a lot of the boxes. We’re thrilled about where he’s come. He’s getting ready to have a big year.”
The things being said about Anderson now are the exact same words used to describe Anderson at this time last year.
Anderson said he’s not worried about taking that first hit, saying he’s always been physical. He wants to take that first hit, and he wants to give one out, too.
He attended all the homes games last season and was at OU’s games vs. Houston and Texas. It hurt to not be out there, obviously, but he never felt separated from the team. The camaraderie was still there. Nobody left his side, and he never turned his back on OU.
It has been a long wait for Anderson. A long road back. Not once but twice.
“Yeah, it’s kind of a blessing and it kind of sucks,” Anderson said. There’s a silver lining in everything. But I don’t know. I try to look for the good in things. I guess the good thing I got out of it was I got two years to mentally prepare myself. The bad thing is that I didn’t get to showcase it.”
The wait is almost over. Come fall camp? It will be time to showcase.
(Anderson at last year's spring game)