It took a village to mold this Cougar QB

ERIK ANDERSON's path from spring walk-on at Washington State to the 105-man roster that will open camp in Lewiston in August is a tale so improbable that the QB's old prep coach beams when talking about it. Even coaches from other teams in his old league are thrilled. It's a story that includes tutoring from Ryan Leaf in 2011 and a winter's worth of coaching from Austin Apodaca earlier this year.

Barring roster health woes of Biblical proportion, the 6-2, 190-pound Anderson won't see the playing field this season or next, or maybe ever. But his path to the Pac-12 is enough to warm the heart.

That stems in part from all the interesting people who helped in big ways and small to get him here. Part is his sheer determination and love of the game. But the biggest piece of this feel-good story is where Anderson comes from.

Highline High School in Burien.

A Class 3A school in the Seamount League, Highline is about as far from big-time high school football as it gets. If Skyline and Bellevue are the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox of the state's prep scene, then Highline is the Double-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Year in and year out, the roster is paper thin -- in numbers as well as height and weight. The field where they practice is lumpy. The scores on Friday are often lopsided.

In the 25 years prior to Anderson, the school sent exactly two ballplayers to the Pac-12: lineman Mike Ewaliko to Washington in the early 90s and safety Anthony Watkins to Oregon State from 2008-12.

"Not only am I excited about Erik making the team at WSU, but I believe this is a perfect example of how high school and college sports should work," says Juan Cotto, who was Anderson's head coach at Highline. "Erik loves the game and wanted to continue playing. He continued to work hard and when the opportunity presented itself he took advantage of it.

"What he will get out of this is an experience of a lifetime: An opportunity that the common man dreams about!" says Cotto (pictured above with Anderson at the spring game in Spokane a month ago).

"Even if he holds a clipboard for four years this will have been worth it. We are all extremely proud of him," adds Cotto, who is the manager of community outreach at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and recently took over as head coach at Franklin High in Seattle.

That list of proud onlookers includes other coaches from Highline's league, Cotto noted.

Not to mention Anderson's parents, Sue and Mark.

"We were pretty much jumping for joy because we knew that was something that Erik really wanted," says Sue. "And when he got his name on the list (for fall camp), it was extremely exciting. We were very proud of him."

COTTO RECOGNIZED ANDERSON'S drive early on. When the coach instituted a ritual of honoring each player with a GPA of 3.0 or better, Anderson was just below that mark the first time around. He told Cotto that would never happen again.

It didn't.

"He was determined in the classroom, he was determined as a student-athlete, he worked extremely hard for us," Cotto said.

A three-sport standout at Highline, Anderson graduated a year ago and headed to WSU with the intention of walking on to the Cougar baseball team. He didn't make it, and as the school year progressed his deep love of football kept calling out to him.

"It wasn't a surprise when he told me this spring that he was going to walk on," Cotto said. "I was hoping that he was going to, but it wasn't a surprise to me at all. I knew he had the kind of make-up to do it."

When Anderson became Highline's starting quarterback early in his sophomore season, the team ran a double-wing offense. But as Anderson grew, physically and mentally, Cotto started moving toward an Air Raid attack.

His quarterback's development was aided by a 90-minute tutoring session with Ryan Leaf the summer before Anderson's junior year.

"Ryan had learned from a mutual friend that we were a struggling program with a kid at quarterback who was very athletic and had real potential," Cotto remembers. "So he rearranged his schedule on a trip to Seattle in order to come out to one of our voluntary workouts. Footwork and arm angle -- Ryan really drove home the proper technique with Erik and his backup."

As fate would have it, that wasn't the end of Anderson's tutelage by a WSU quarterback.

This past winter, Austin Apodaca took Anderson under his wing, working with him three days a week.

Apodaca, who at the time had just announced he would be transferring from WSU, met Anderson through a mutual friend. The son of a coach and a two-year veteran of Leach's Air Raid, Apodaca was a natural at offering Anderson instruction.

Anderson's eagerness to learn, coupled with his physical skills, convinced Apodaca the young man had a shot with the Cougs.

"I would say it takes a lot of confidence (to walk on at quarterback), and he has that," Apodaca told last week. "He's gotten a lot more of it from when I saw him for the first time and when he made the team, which obviously goes to show that he's a good player … What I'm trying to say is that he looks like he has the confidence of a player that can play at WSU and he definitely has the willpower to do it as well."

Cotto said Anderson's commitment is total. The fact he and his mom and dad persevered through Highline's struggles is testament, especially in an era where school-hopping is common.

"This is a kid who has two tremendous parents," Cotto said. "In an age where high school kids are transferring and being recruited to different high schools, the Andersons, despite our win-loss record, were fantastic supporters of our program.

"You need to have great kids in your program, and for everything that Coach Leach has talked about, Erik Anderson fits in with what they do over there," Cotto said. "First of all, he's a great student. He's a great character guy. He's going to work extremely hard to push the guys that are ahead of him. It isn't a matter of someday him taking over. It's a matter of him being there to strengthen the competition that they have."


Cougfan Top Stories