By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
April 14, 2010
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Flowers are not the only thing blooming in Morgantown this time of the year. Springtime is when the West Virginia Mountaineers are growing football players over at Milan Puskar Stadium, and it looks like the next one about ready to blossom is redshirt freshman linebacker Tyler Anderson.
That’s right all you five-star watchers out there, that Tyler Anderson.
Anderson was a two-way player at Morgantown High who performed well enough as a senior to get Akron and Bowling Green knocking down his door - not exactly the kind of schools that get the message boards around here buzzing. Tyler actually committed to Bowling Green before going over there to see what he was about to get himself into.
“I went there to their spring game and I felt like I was watching a high school game,” Anderson said. “I felt like I could be a bigger player than what I saw.”
The entire time Anderson was on his visit to Bowling Green there were a couple of things going through the back of his mind. One was a conversation he had with his buddy, WVU player Boogie Allen.
“He told me I could play at this level with ease if I wanted to, all it is is a mental thing,” Anderson recalled.
The other thing stuck in Anderson’s mind like a can of Lester Hayes’ Stickum was the way he performed at West Virginia’s 7-on-7 camp last summer when all those big-name players from Gateway High School in Pittsburgh came down to Morgantown to show the other half how they play football.
“I was playing tight end then and I guess there was supposed to have been the No. 2 corner in the country and I just lit him up for like four or five touchdowns in one game,” Anderson said.
Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel remembers that afternoon, too.
“He was just competing like crazy against Gateway, who had some kids going to Ohio State,” said Casteel. “We really liked the way he competed.”
To be fair, some of the bigger schools did know a little bit about Anderson. Boston College sent him letters but wouldn’t consider offering him a scholarship unless he came to their camp.
“Too far away,” Anderson said.
So Tyler decided to roll the dice and try hometown WVU as an invited walk-on last fall.
“Coach Casteel always told me there could be an opportunity for me here and when Coach Dunlap came to my school to recruit me he told me there would be an opportunity,” Anderson said.
Both of them kept their word.
This spring, Anderson has been working some with the twos at SAM linebacker behind junior Anthony Leonard. He is also a good candidate for special teams. Anderson drew praise from Coach Bill Stewart after last Saturday’s practice, and even more praise Tuesday evening from Casteel.
“We do like Tyler, but his head is swimming right now,” said Casteel, who has been doing this long enough to know it’s always a good idea to hedge your bets right after paying a compliment to a young player. “He was running our opponents’ defense last year for the majority of the time, so he’s running our defense for the first time. He’s a big kid that runs, he’s a quick learner and we’re excited about him.”
Those recruiting reports that many of you rely on for afternoon morale boosts will hand out stars for a player’s size (Anderson is 6-feet-2, 240 pounds by the way), speed, playmaking abilities, stats, and even the number of schools that might be after him. But they don’t hand out stars for a player’s heart and determination - and that is usually what separates the ones who can get up for a 6 a.m. workout or go to class early in the morning from the ones who can’t … or won’t.
“Those stars don’t mean anything to me,” Anderson said. “You can find a player in the middle of West Virginia and nobody knows about him. Look at (Marc) Magro, he was a good linebacker at West Virginia and he wasn’t a star. He was just a regular Morgantown player until he came to the university and learned everything. Once he learned everything with the proper techniques, he became a big-time player.”
And becoming a big-time major college football player is why Anderson came to WVU.
“For me it’s a great opportunity to come out here and show what I can do,” Anderson explained. “Not a lot of people get his opportunity in the state of West Virginia to come out and try to become a Division I athlete.”
Aside from his size and athleticism, Casteel is impressed with Anderson’s willingness to learn and improve.
“It seems like every time I go into the linebacker’s room to get something he’s in there studying,” said Casteel. “I think he’s got a good work ethic.”
“Even if it’s for just 10 or 20 minutes, any film I watch right now is going to help me become a better player,” explained Anderson.
Tyler comes from great bloodlines. The late Jerome Anderson was his uncle. The Baby Boomers and even some of the oldest Generation Xers will rememember Jerome as a star basketball player for the Mountaineers in the early 1970s who played professionally for the Boston Celtics and later in Europe. He died last year in Sweden after battling leukemia.
“I didn’t really know much about his playing career here,” Anderson said. “I lived with my mom. My dad lived up in Columbus and down in Mullens. He didn’t really talk about him much, but I’ve seen his high school stats and records. I’ve seen his jerseys, rings and all of that great stuff."
Perhaps one day years from now some of Tyler’s relatives will come back to Morgantown High once his playing career is finished to look up his stats, jerseys and rings. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.
“We’ve had a lot of success with guys like Tyler – a bright kid who’s a pretty good athlete who will come in and do what he’s asked to do to play for West Virginia,” said Casteel. “If he continues to do that then we’ve found ourselves a football player.”
Maybe it’s the water over at the stadium. Whatever it is, just keep on growing ‘em.
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