Ravens' Anderson still pounds the drum

Veteran RB and former Marine provides depth, discipline to Ravens' backfield

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Pound the drums with pride, Mike Anderson thought. Prove himself doing something enjoyable, making the drums sing with an authoritative sound that echoes his deep, baritone voice.

That was his reaction as a South Carolina high school freshman when the football coaches at Fairfield Central High School told him he was too muscular and bulky to compete at running back.

So, the future NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and burly Marine didn't play high school football at all, refusing to bend to their suggestions that he learn a three-point stance and become a lineman.

Instead, he played the quints, a set of five small drums that hung from his shoulders. Anderson still has them and breaks them out every once in a while to make sure he hasn't lost his touch.

"I always loved music," Anderson recalled in a quiet tone at his locker stall in the Baltimore Ravens' locker room. "The drums were good to me. I liked the rhythm of it and the discipline that it took to hit them just right."

His unusual path to the NFL, and eventually the Ravens' backfield, didn't stop there, though, continuing a divergent football route.

Forget Vince Papale. The back story of how Anderson went from an unknown Marine who dabbled in football to an established 32-year-old NFL veteran clearly trumps "Invincible."

After graduating from high school, Anderson joined the Marines and endured a rigorous 13-week boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., before being stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

He traveled the world, engaging in peace-keeping missions in Somalia and Kenya, including dangerous duties such as nighttime patrols.

"I was prepared for any situation because they trained me so well," Anderson said. "I knew the risks and I accepted them. Yes, it was scary at times, but you learn to overcome your fears. It's not about being a hero. It's about doing your job."

A few of Anderson's Marine buddies enlisted him to join their flag football team. It was his first organized experience in the game since his Pop Warner days. He quickly graduated to a full-contact team at Camp Pendleton.

Anderson left the Corps in 1996 with a corporal's rank, college tuition money, put on 40 pounds of muscle and a growing reputation as a football prospect.

"The military background gave me a lot more discipline," Anderson said. "To this day, I jump out of bed because I feel like sleep is overrated. Having discipline gives you a winning attitude and a never-say-never attitude that transfers to life, too.

"When you're a Marine, you don't complain. You follow orders. You're not a quitter. You take pride in being part of a team and putting it on the line for each other."

A retired Marine lieutenant colonel recruited Anderson to play for two years at Mount San Jacinto Community College in California, where he emerged as an All-American and the California Junior College Player of the Year when he rushed for 1,686 yards as a sophomore.

That led to a scholarship from the University of Utah, where he impressed enough by averaging 104.2 rushing yards per game that the Denver Broncos picked him in the sixth round in 2000.

When he arrived at Denver, the 25-year-old rookie thought he would be cut because of the presence of star running backs like Terrell Davis and Olandis Gary.

Because of their injuries and his perseverance, Anderson wound up beating out Ravens running back Jamal Lewis for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year by gaining 1,487 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns.

For years, Anderson constantly had to prove himself to Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, enduring demotions, a two-year stint at fullback blocking for Clinton Portis and a major injury in 2004 when he tore two muscles in his groin.

When Anderson returned last season, he had to beat out Ron Dayne and Tatum Bell and wound up rushing for 1,014 yards and 12 touchdowns.

He also made a lasting impression on trash-talking Ravens linebacker Bart Scott last December in the Ravens' narrow loss to the Broncos.

"I hit him on fourth down and started talking trash to him and he just stared at me with the blankest, deadest stare I've ever seen," Scott said. "It was like, ‘You fool.' There was absolutely no reaction. You can tell he was in the Marines because he's disciplined and he's tough. It's a waste of time to try to intimidate him."

At 6-foot, 230 pounds, Anderson has always epitomized a physical running style, thriving on contact and a strict routine of exercise and a healthy diet. He's always been a morning person, too.

"Mike Anderson is a great football player, but he's an even better person," said Ravens defensive end Trevor Pryce, Anderson's former Broncos teammate. "At training camp, I roomed with him and he would just jump up out of bed and be ready to lift weights, eat breakfast and practice.

"I couldn't do that. I need my sleep, but Mike is just a tough guy. He loves football as much, if not more than anyone on this team. He never complains."

Now, Anderson is Lewis' backup after signing a four-year, $8 million contract that included a $2 million signing bonus this spring hours before Lewis unexpectedly decided to remain in Baltimore after abruptly canceling a free-agent visit to Denver.

Anderson is part of a crowded backfield that includes Lewis and Musa Smith, who led Baltimore in rushing this preseason.

"I'm excited about it," Anderson said. "Whatever happens with playing time, I want us to have success. Hopefully, we'll win ball games by working together. I'm used to sharing the workload after playing in Denver. These guys have to get used to that.

"We're all about the team and we all get along. Hopefully, we'll walk out of here with health in hand and we'll have that punch as running backs. We're blessed to play this game."

Anderson has been slowed by minor injuries this preseason, including a mild concussion and a sprained foot.

Healthy again, he started the preseason finale against the Washington Redskins and gained 26 yards on nine carries. He also caught two passes for 11 yards.

"It felt good to stay out there and get into a rhythm with the offense," Anderson said. "I'm starting to feel real comfortable with the scheme and what we're doing. I can't wait for the regular season to start."

Anderson will celebrate his 33rd birthday on Sept. 21. After spending four years in the Marines, he considers himself to be well-preserved.

"I'm not as old as people think I am," said Anderson, who has gained 3,822 yards and scored 36 touchdowns in six full NFL seasons "I feel good and I still have a lot left in me."

It's unclear what sort of defined role Anderson will have during the season, although there are scenarios where he'll act as a short-yardage and goal-line runner and possibly give Lewis a breather for a series or two.

"There's no such difficulty with having three good backs," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We're going to run the ball about 500 times. I'm sure they care, and I'm receptive to that, but as long as there's depth there, I don't much care who gets what carry. 

"You need depth. We've got it. We'll find a role for them all. .. We know what Mike Anderson is about. We're lucky to have Mike Anderson on this football team."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.


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