It may be a bit of a stretch to say that Eryk Anders was a secret. But prior to late summer, when Alabama Coach Nick Saban announced that Brandon Fanney would not be returning to the squad, Anders was considered more of a special situations player.
Anders was the guy who trotted onto the field as Terrence Cody trotted off in passing situations. Fanney, a 6-4, 257-pounder, ranked third on the team in tackles. Anders, 6-2, 227, was down the list on the tackle chart, though he had made a name for himself for harassing opposing quarterbacks with six pressures.
Anders was given first shot at the jack linebacker spot, which is something of a hybrid spot, part defensive end, part outside linebacker. The senior from San Antonio didn’t waste the opportunity. He has been the starter from Day One this season and will be in the lineup when Alabama faces Anders’ home-state university, the Texas Longhorns, for the national championship.
Anders said that as a youngster he was a fan of Texas, but the Longhorns were just one of a long list of major colleges that did not offer Anders a scholarship out of high school. In fact, the only Texas college that recruited him was Texas Tech, and Anders said he wasn’t interested.
Ole Miss wanted him. And after his high school coach sent in a highlight tape, Alabama offered. It was an easy decision for the young man who had been an undersized defensive lineman at Smithson Valley High School. Anders was a late summer signee before entering The University in August 2006.
Anders hasn’t been offered any spots in post-season all-star games and he may not be an NFL draft pick. But he has been a solid performer for Bama. Through 13 games, Anders has been in on 59 tackles (26 primary), which ranks fourth for the Crimson Tide. He is tied with All-America linebacker Rolando McClain with 12.5 tackles for losses (for a team-leading 72 yards in losses) and is tied for second in sacks with five. He is the best on the team in quarterback pressures again this year with 17. He also has one pass interception and one pass broken up, has caused two fumbles, and recovered one.
Anders and his teammates will take on Texas for the BCS National Championship on January 7 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
Anders was home for a few days between Alabama’s win over Florida for the Southeastern Conference championship and the beginning of practice. He said, “Everybody was like ‘Go Texas. I want you to do good, but I want Texas to win,’ and stuff like that. I know how people in Texas are about football, sort of like people in Alabama are about football, so I knew what I was getting into.”
Alabama completed its first phase of preparation Wednesday morning. The team will break for Christmas, return Sunday for another five days or work, then fly to Los Angeles for the final week of practice and the game.
Anders said prior to the final practice this week, “We really haven’t worked on Texas. We went back to the basics and the fundamentals, getting used to having our pads on and hitting again.”
Anders said the on-again, off-again practice schedule hasn’t distracted from the work.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I know Coach Saban wants the best for us and he’s going to do whatever he has to do to get us ready. We have confidence in the way he schedules things.”
Anders said the challenge is “staying focused and doing little things right. With all this time off you could get lazy and lackadaisical and not do the little things, and not doing the little things can get you beat.”
He said work has been more physical in preparation this year than it was last year, when Alabama was headed for a 31-17 embarrassment at the hands of Utah in the Sugar Bowl.
“Coach Saban doesn’t want to happen this year what happened last year, so he’s doing a good job of getting us prepared. He’s doing a good job for us.”
A key, Anders said, is avoiding mistakes. “That’s always the goal,” he said. “The least amount of mistakes you make, the more you are doing things right. If you’re doing everything right, it’s hard for the other team to get going and get momentum in the game.”
Anders doesn’t think this is just a game for the seniors. “Only a handful of players get to play for the national championship at any point in their careers,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for us and we’ve just to go out and execute.”
He said he hasn’t looked back on the success of this year’s team or the struggle that it took during his career to get to this point. “Not yet,” he said. “We’re still looking ahead.”
Anders said being a Texan doesn’t make this a special game for him. “We’re getting ready for them just like they were Florida or LSU or anyone else we play,” he said. “It’s not about who we’re playing. It’s about us and what we do.”
Anders was asked about Christmas gifts. He said he was more into giving than getting. “I really didn’t get a lot growing up,” he said. “I was just happy to get anything.”
It will be a little late, but on January 7 Anders and his teammates can give the Alabama nation a gift that will last forever.