Nikiski's Anderson enjoying role as running back

Posted: Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Check out these numbers: 135 carries for 904 yards in seven games, an average of 6.7 yards per carry and 11 rushing touchdowns not bad for a guy who wanted to be a wide receiver.

Indeed, senior Billy Anderson has grown into his role as the feature back for the Nikiski High School football team, getting the lion's share of the carries on offense.

But when he first started playing high school football, Anderson wanted to be running pass routes, not lining up in the backfield.

"After my first game freshman year, my coach said realistically, a receiver doesn't get the ball that much in high school football," Anderson said. "I could get my hands on the ball a lot more as a running back."

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Anderson first started getting varsity carries as a sophomore member of Nikiski's last state championship team.

Anderson said with the big leads that team, led by a deep and talented senior class, racked up, he got to play quite a bit. He finished his sophomore season with seven carries for 76 yards in two varsity games, then followed that up with 483 yards on 97 carries in seven games as a junior.

But that group of seniors gave Anderson more than just varsity playing time as a sophomore.

"They had a real good work ethic," Anderson said. "They'd grab us after practice and have us run with them and that'd be after we'd already done conditioning in practice."

In other words, that class taught this year's senior class of Bulldogs what it takes to play at the highest level. Anderson said as a senior, he's trying to pass on that work ethic as well. Anderson still gets in some extra conditioning, and he's always sure to include his younger brother Michael, a sophomore defensive end and tight end, in the routine.

Nikiski coach Ned Clooten said that the senior class from two seasons ago left such a strong impression, Anderson and his classmates are just now starting to establish their own senior identity.

"It sounds funny, but Billy is starting to be a little more vocal as a leader," Clooten said. "That class from two years ago had such incredible leaders, these kids are just starting to crack that shell a little bit.

"Not that Billy hasn't been a leader, he's just starting to become more vocal, rather than a leader by example. The kids have always looked up to him."

Perhaps the biggest indicator that this year's Bulldogs have stepped out of the shadow of past teams is the way they've responded to adversity.

"Last year, after we were shut out, we kept getting shut out," Anderson said. "This year, we got shut out, and we came back and scored 55 points the next week."

Anderson said he's learned other important lessons from his teammates and coaches though athletics.

"My freshman and sophomore year, (assistant football coach Ward) Romans made a big impact, and (assistant coach) Ted Riddall," Anderson said. "They helped me get in touch with God, which I think has brought out a lot of my talents."

Anderson has played hockey at Nikiski for the past three years, though he said he's going to switch to basketball this season in each year of high school hockey, he's sustained a serious injury.

"Growing up, hockey was my favorite, but I've just had bad luck with it," Anderson said.

Anderson, who said science and history are his favorite subjects, said he plans to attend college next year and would like to continue his football career. He lists Greenville College, a Christian college in Greenville, Ill., as a possibility, as well as Valley City State University in Valley City, N.D.

"I always tell kids, it's not what you did in high school, it's what you do after high school," said Clooten. "With his work ethic, the sky's the limit. If he continues to work, he can go play college ball for someone.

"He's a gem. He's a diamond in the rough. Some college coach is going to be lucky to get him."

In addition to his work ethic, Clooten said Anderson also is one of the most coachable kids on the team. Clooten first had the opportunity to work with Anderson last spring during track season, where Anderson runs the 300- and 110-meter hurdles.

"My first impression came last year in track," Clooten said. "He was a kid that was extremely coachable, and he continued to get better as the season went on."

Anderson qualified for the state championships in the 300 hurdles, and found himself running in fourth place in the semifinals the top four runners in each of the qualifying heats advanced to the final.

"I cleared my last hurdle, and I tripped and fell," Anderson said.

Clooten said Anderson was coping just fine with the disappointment until Anderson saw how upset his coach was.

"I kinda ruined his day he handled it better than I did," Clooten said.

Still, the slip did provide some motivation, and Anderson said he worked hard over the summer in preparation for the football season. In addition to his role with the offense, Anderson also plays linebacker for the Bulldogs.

"I probably like playing defense better," Anderson said, expressing a sentiment popular among Nikiski teams. "We like to hit people. It's just our North Road pride."

This season has provided plenty of highlights for Anderson, including a special game at Valdez. Anderson was born in Valdez, and lived there for several years before moving to Nikiski. While Anderson's mother, Elizabeth Fitzgerald, has since remarried to Thomas Fitzgerald, Anderson's father, Jonathan Anderson, still lives in Valdez, and it was the first time the younger Anderson was able to play with his father watching from the sideline.

And on offense, Anderson has even had the opportunity to catch a few passes, four of them this season, for 54 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

"I actually like coming out on pass routes," Anderson said. "I still like being a receiver."

For his part, Anderson said he couldn't single out any moment as a highlight.

"It's all just a journey," Anderson said. "I've enjoyed the whole ride."

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