ROME, Ga. –Adam Anderson became Georgia’s newest commitment on Friday morning. The junior outside linebacker counts his blessings when few would describe his life that way.
The impressive tally of physical traits that have led to him being rated as the nation’s No. 7 prospect at his position mask a life of hardship.
Being “committed to the G” instantly makes Anderson one of the most notable prep players in Georgia this fall. He was personally recruited by Kirby Smart. Anderson looks like he might have a 32-inch waist that connects his 6-foot-5 frame to all of his 225 pounds.
He’s a raw athlete, but Smart told him he likes his natural aggressiveness and the way he disrupts plays. No coach can create that.
The Rome staff estimates they might have two or three players faster than Anderson, but those Wolves are not well over six feet tall. They also do not tip the scales at more than 200 pounds.
Anderson was personally recruited by Georgia head coach Kirby Smart. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
The 4-star recruit can bench press 275 pounds and power clean 285. He states he can run a 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. The “freak” descriptions come out when the film shows he can defend both the dive call and the outside edge on a power option call from his defensive end spot.
Anderson can squeeze down and push back to still cover his gap to take the dive and the quarterback option away. That drives both the offensive coordinator and the offensive line coach at Rome crazy.
As it should.
“We tell our quarterback not to get used to the defensive end being there to make that play,” Rome offensive coordinator Chris Boden said. “No other defensive end anywhere else will make that play in high school. Just Adam. Only Adam has the size and speed and length to make that.”
Rome head coach John Reid tells him, “Good job,” as he shakes his head. Then he tells all the other defensive ends at Rome to never try what Anderson just did.
What really stands out
The rangy athlete with the size-13 feet also plays basketball and runs track. He feels the thought of competing in all those sports year-round will make him a better football player. No days off.
It seems like there is a grocery list of feats to chronicle, but none of those elements would be the most impressive thing his head coach has seen him do.
Anderson has incredible length and size at his position. He’s also a three-sport athlete at Rome. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
“My answer to that would be watching him walk one Sunday morning,” Reid said. “He was walking to church. It was Easter Sunday. He was all dressed up in his Sunday best and he was walking to church.”
A member of the Rome staff estimated that was a four-mile trek from where he stayed to church. Another said it was more like eight miles. Let’s split it and call it six miles.
Anderson said he left his home at 6 a.m. that morning so he could get to church on time.
“I wanted to be there in church on Sundays,” Anderson said. “I’ve got a good relationship with God that I hope to keep working on getting better. He’s blessed me with a lot and I want to make sure I know I’m so very thankful for what he’s done for my life.”
That answer will draw a lot of “Amens” in the church pew on Sunday morning.
Why was he walking that far? Well, he didn’t have a ride.
Anderson keeps a picture of his beloved lost sister in his locker at Rome. He said he draws strength from it. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
The reason for that will be the hardest thing to forget when it comes to Anderson.
The last five months of his life have been harrowing. Anderson lost his beloved older sister. She passed away right before the end of his sophomore year. He still doesn’t know the cause of her death. His stepfather also recently passed away after a battle with cancer.
Anderson’s mother raises him in a single parent home with his younger brother. He’s 10 years old and is classified as deaf. How many 4-stars have a 300-word sign language vocabulary?
A big part of the decision to commit to Georgia was its location. He’s been to Athens about “four or five times” and felt that Georgia was recruiting him the hardest. The Bulldogs were the first school to recruit him seriously. He said that Clemson and Tennessee were the two other schools which came the closest to Georgia in regard to his decision.
That said, this decision wasn’t very close at all.
Remembering an Angel
The loss of his older sister was especially tough.
She helped him set up his first email address. Angel Johnson told him that his best hairstyle would be the frosted gold color he sports now. He said he’ll probably always keep it that way.
Of course he will.
“The last thing I told her was that I will see her later,” Anderson said. “She was in the hospital for about two months before she passed away.”
He keeps a picture of his sister in his locker. He said he draws strength from her.
Anderson said his choice was Georgia. There really wasn’t a No. 2 choice. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
“I didn’t start thinking about being a college football player until my freshman year when my sister told me to keep working at it,” Anderson said. “She told me to keep working and working hard. She was a major spark and motivator in me getting started in football.
“She would try to keep me motivated and keep me excited. I remember her putting a helmet on and her telling me ‘Let’s go’ whenever I needed to hear it.”
Anderson said he will write her name on the tape of his wristbands at practice and will do that before games, too.
“She was so close to me and really it was like she was a twin or so,” Anderson said. “The first two weeks were a real struggle, but I just try to keep the good memories we had together and just think of those instead of how sad I am that she is gone. She was always a major part of my life. I use that as motivation football-wise for me to give more and more effort and overcome the sadness about that.”
When he’s tired at practice, he said he just closes his eyes and thinks of her. He doesn’t think about the only reports he got of pneumonia and blood clots in her lungs. He also heard she had some bacteria in her blood.
His sister Angel passed away back in May.
He also lost his stepfather Francis Almond about three weeks ago. He’s grateful to him for the tips he shared when he was starting to play football and how he helped around the house a lot.
‘I realize that I have to be there for my mom a lot and also to be there for my brother at all times because he is deaf,” Anderson said. “I want to take care of them. I hope to see if I can one day take care of them through getting my degree through football and then maybe through football. I see that football will now help me out with my future.”
His commitment to Georgia was definitely a bright spot for his mother. She told him she was very excited about the decision his life was going.
“He has the biggest heart”
Reid said he couldn’t come up with a single character flaw regarding Anderson. Boden just describes him with “the biggest heart” and wonders if all the big-time prospects set such a fine example for their teams.
Anderson plays defensive end at Rome, but will be an outside linebacker at Georgia when he enrolls in 2018. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
His actions on the field reflect those traits. Last year Rome beat Stephenson, a top-five team, on the road in the state playoffs. It was a tight 7-6 game and a blocked extra point gave the Wolves the road win.
Reid wasn’t sure who blocked the extra point in the heat of the game. He figured the angle meant it had to be a cornerback who came crashing down from the outside.
Eventually, he figured out it was Anderson who blocked that extra point. Reid didn’t learn that until he was watching game film with him the next morning. Nobody gave any signs. Especially not Anderson. He just ran off the field.
“He didn’t pound his chest or pump his fist,” Reid said. “I was watching the film on Saturday and asked him if he blocked it and he said ‘Yes, sir’ and that was it. That’s just the kind of kid he is. That one story right there tells you all any Georgia fan needs to know about this big and fast and rangy linebacker they are getting. He is probably one of the best citizens that walks into our school every day. Without any doubt.”
Jeff Sentell covers UGA football and UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges. Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.