By Jim Benton for www.armedforcesbowl.com
Fort Worth, Texas, December 28 – If Steve Anderson was walking down the streets of downtown Fort Worth, nobody would suspect he is the leading tackler on a major college football team.
Anderson looks like many other young men who maybe make regular visits to the health club.
However, Anderson is an exceptional football player who is the ringleader for the Army defense that will challenge SMU in Thursday’s Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas.
He is a 5-foot-10, 229-pound senior middle linebacker who has 94 tackles this season, including 10.5 for losses. He’s been credited with four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, five pass breakups and one interception.
"At West Point like a lot of places where you have a lot of bright players and a lot of smart guys, sometimes it starts to feel like you are practicing in the library," Army coach Rich Ellerson said. "But if you have Anderson in the middle, you know you are playing football. He’s in a position where he has a lot of opportunities. If he’s not productive, we’re not having a very good day. He’s the right guy."
Anderson has started every game he’s played in the past three seasons (33).
"He’s got tremendous instincts," Ellerson continued. "Obviously he’s not the prototypical mike linebacker. He’s undersized and all that stuff but he sees the game extraordinarily well.
"He doesn’t bring anything off the field with him. He leaves it all out there. He has great football instincts. He’s quick and he’s strong. He’s not especially fast, he’s not especially big but he’s got great instincts and a great passion for the game. He’s a beautiful guy we have to have in the middle because I think his teammates feed off his energy and passion."
Anderson claims that hard work is paying dividends for him on the field.
"One thing I live by is hard work pays off," Anderson said. "I know the work in put in each week, the work I put in in the weight room, the film room and the work I put in knowing my defensive assignments allow me to make more plays.
"I trust in that. I don’t alter the way I play or the defensive scheme we may have. I play within the scheme and that allows me to make a lot of plays. When the opportunity arises I have to seize the opportunity and make the play. There’s nothing worse than knowing there are plays out there that I know I should make and I failed to make them for whatever reason."
Army employs an aggressive, double-eagle defensive scheme that Anderson hopes will contain SMU’s explosive offensive.
"It (double eagle) allows us to use our strengths and minimizes our weaknesses," Anderson said referring to the Black Knights’ defense. "We have a lot of smart guys and guys who love to swarm to the football. With our defense being the way it is, that allows us to do some things to maybe trick our opponent or make our opponent think we are in one thing but we are in another.
"We have a lot of good stuff planned for the game. We’ll try to get a good key on when they will be running and when they will be passing."
Anderson is one of Army’s captains on a team with players who are trained to be leaders.
"It’s tough," he said. "It’s not something a lot of schools have to deal with because I am a leader among leaders. You just have to let your strengths come out. I have strengths and I have weaknesses. This is as close of brotherhood as you are going to find. I might be the formal leader but I need everybody to buy into what we are trying to do."
Jim Benton, a sportswriter for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver for 41 years, will be covering his fourth-straight Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. He started as a high school beat writer four decades ago, Since then, he has covered a variety of sports including college football, basketball and hockey, professional hockey, football, baseball and basketball, tennis, golf, bowling, soccer, horse racing and NASCAR. Benton is a Denver native and a graduate of the University of Denver.