Backyard Football

Nov. 12, 2005

By Tim Collins
Special to

Growing up in Shrewsbury, Mass., Bryan Anderson always dreamed of donning the golden helmet for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. But when his options narrowed, he ultimately chose to stay close to home and found another prestigious Catholic school that had been right under his nose the whole time. Anderson never knew what a great time he would have at Holy Cross, which sat on the hill only 10 minutes away.

During Anderson's senior year in high school he garnered a lot of attention from Division I-AA schools from all over the northeast. The only problem was that they all wanted to use him strictly as a defensive back. After all, he was a "Super 26" All-State defender in 2001 while playing for Shrewsbury High. He was also named a Wendy's High School Heisman Scholarship Citizen nominee. Anderson could have gone to any of the handful of schools that liked his skills but he would never have been able to play the position that he loved. Even though he excelled as a defensive back, he was a wide receiver at heart. Holy Cross might not have been on his radar until late but they would give him the opportunity he hoped for. The Crusaders would give him the chance to prove himself on the next level as a wide receiver and also offered an unmatched education at the same time.

"Ultimately, I chose Holy Cross because it was second to none in academics and I could really sense the football family atmosphere of the team when I came on my visit," said Anderson. "It's great playing so close to home because I get a lot of local support from the Central Mass. fans. Being so close makes it easier for my coaches, friends and family to come to more games. I knew that I wanted to go to college somewhere in the New England area, but I never thought that I would end up in my own backyard. Staying so close wasn't something I planned on, it just worked out that way."

Keeping the family tradition alive, Anderson decided to come to Holy Cross and remain in Central Massachusetts where both of his parents grew up. His father, Gary, grew up in Northborough, while his mother, Jean, is a Millbury native. By only going as far as Worcester he was able to stay near his biggest supporters which also included his grandfather, Gary, or "Grunk" as Anderson calls him. While the whole family is rewarded by being able to watch Bryan haul in passes live on Saturdays during the fall, he knows that he never would be in position to do it without their backing.

"I am very close to my parents. They are always very supportive and encouraging in whatever I do. Their motivation is a major part of where I am today. I always try to do my best to make them proud," said Anderson. "My grandfather is very important to me. He has to come all my games over the last eight years and has sat through rain and snow. He is always there for me too."

During his final season at Holy Cross, Anderson has had a set back that is never easy, especially for a senior. On Sept. 17 against Harvard, he injured his medial meniscus according to an MRI. The story get interesting because when the doctor scoped his knee three weeks later he found that Anderson's ACL was not even intact anymore. An old ACL tear from high school had been reconstructed but through the last few years had failed him. "The bone graft had broken and the ACL gradually lost tension. So the doctor also removed the broken bone graft a few weeks ago," said Anderson. "Somehow, I've been playing without an ACL for some time now."

Somehow his football achievements from high school right through his final days playing as a Crusader are seemingly even more impressive because they were only done with one good knee.

Before being injured, Anderson had five catches for 55 yards through the first three games of the 2005 season. This was just a continuation of the breakout junior season he had last year. Starting seven games in 2004, Anderson totaled 17 receptions for 185 yards, which was good enough for fourth on the team. His biggest output came against Marist when he caught three passes for 46 yards. The season was a big step for Anderson after spending a majority of his first two seasons on special teams. Finally getting the opportunity to show off his ability in front of the home crowd, he began to take advantage.

"My junior season presented me with the opportunity to step in at receiver and make some plays," said Anderson. "I worked really hard in the weight room in the off-season and concentrated on running perfect routes and always knowing my assignment. The hard work paid off and I was able to help the team out last year."

Standing six-feet even with a 200-pound frame, Anderson does not have an overwhelming size advantage on all the defensive backs he might face, but his attitude and football experience are what he has used to development a style he calls his own. "I like catching the ball at the receiver position. It's fun to run a play and execute it by making a catch," said Anderson. He may be a receiver by choice and by trade but he likes to bring his defensive back mentality over to the offensive side of the ball. "I loved the hitting that came with playing defense so I try to bring that aspect of the game to offense by being physical with my blocking."

With hope of returning for the last couple games of his collegiate career, Anderson has worked hard rehabbing and began running sprints as early as Halloween and began practicing soon after. Surely the Central Mass. following will be on hand to watch him run his routes on Senior Day.

No matter how this year ends up for Anderson, he has shown that totally leaving behind his home for college is not always the best decision. The support that a student-athlete can get at a new school may be immense, but it cannot match what can be given from one's family. Anderson also is able to serve as a great example to the area that he grew up in, and to the young football players that are just beginning their careers. Not just on the field but in the classroom, he is an example of local success as in 2004 he was one of the 16 Crusaders to be named to the Patriot League All-Academic Team.

"Bryan is one of the hardest workers on the team," said Holy Cross wide receivers coach Chris Pincince. "From the weight room, to the practice field, and into the classroom, he sets an example that every young player should follow. He is a pleasure to coach, one of the most consistent performers on the field. He has improved consistently since I have been here over the last two years, and has turned himself into a very good Patriot League wide receiver."

Looking toward the future, Anderson is still sorting out his options like many college seniors. The economics major is still trying to decide whether to use his love of carpentry as a construction project manager or lean toward his business knowledge to get into a sports management or finance career. "There are a few opportunities I am pursuing, but I will not know for another few months what I am going to be doing," said Anderson. Regardless of his future, staying close to home has been his best decision so far. He added, "Holy Cross has helped mold me into a well-rounded individual. I'm thankful for the experiences I've had both as a student and as a member of the football team and for the friendships I've made with my teammates."

Bryan Anderson never knew he would end up in his own back yard, but it gave him a chance to create opportunities down the road. Lucky enough to have Anderson around, his family and the whole Central Mass community were treated to watching the local kid make plays for four more years.