By Mark Soltau
STANFORD, Calif. -
Henry Anderson thought he was pretty sharp in math until he arrived at Stanford. He took advanced placement courses at Woodward Academy in Atlanta and assumed math would be a breeze.
"And then I get here and take an introductory math class and I'm just struggling miserably on the homework and exams," said the junior defensive end.
The class was an eye-opener, but Anderson has nothing but appreciation for the education football is providing. He's majoring in political science and is intent on attending law school. That is, after he gets his master's in management science and engineering.
"It's cool, because you get around a bunch of people that are really focused on their academics and really love what they do," he said. "All the guys on the football team are focused on their studies as well as football. It's different from high school when you've got some guys who are just meatheads."
Growing up, Anderson was a big Georgia fan and attended many games. He thought he would land at an SEC or ACC school, but Stanford kept climbing on his list.
"A bunch of those schools had good football programs, but their academics were clearly not as good as Stanford's," Anderson said. "Going to a private school in Atlanta, academics was really important to me and still is. If you get a degree from Stanford, you're pretty much set for life after football."
Anderson, a 6-foot-6, 278-pounder, saw action in all 13 games last year, but has blossomed in 2012 as a starter. He's already contributed two game-saving plays for the No. 15 Cardinal.
Against Arizona, he tipped a pass that resulted in an interception by teammate Chase Thomas and an overtime win. Last Saturday, Anderson sacked Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel on the last play of the game deep in Stanford territory to help preserve a 24-17 victory.
"From Game 1 to last week, my confidence has grown," said Anderson. "That just stems from getting a lot of plays in games and being more comfortable. It's a lot different than practice. You get a lot more adrenaline flowing."
A year ago, Anderson made only six tackles and returned a fumble 37 yards to set up a touchdown against San Jose State. This year, he already has 29 stops, 5.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and has deflected four passes, fourth-most on the team.
"Last year I only played a few snaps each game and thought, 'Oh, I've got to play really well if I want to stay in the game,'" he said. "It's a big stage and you really want to play well. This year, I was the starter for Game 1. The game definitely slows down."
Anderson helped Stanford collect a school-record 10 sacks against pass-happy Washington State, but knows the number could have been higher.
"After watching game film, we probably left five or six on the table," said Anderson. "We're happy with our performance, but know it could have been even better and a mark that could have been unreachable for the new few decades."
Stanford (6-2), which plays at Colorado (1-7) on Saturday, ranks first in the country in tackles for loss (9.5 per game), third in sacks (4.00 per game) and second in rushing defense (65.1 yards).
While the unit held the Cougars to minus-18 yards rushing last week, Anderson knows the Buffaloes are hungry for a win. And by the way, their lone victory came at Washington State, a team that gave Stanford fits.
"We're not overlooking anybody at this point," Anderson said. "We haven't done it since I've been here. We know that we have to look at each game individually and put all of our energy and focus into that game. They have a couple good running backs and we know they're getting better."
Teammates call Anderson "Goose," a nickname he isn't wild about. Anderson and several players decompress by playing Madden NFL video games and he has a penchant for blowing fourth-quarter leads.
"One time I scored no points in the fourth quarter and someone yelled, `Oh, he put up a goose egg," said Anderson. "Kind of ticked the nickname stuck."
Anderson was an all-around athlete in high school, lettering in football, basketball and track. He won the state championship and broke the school record in the shot put, but truth be told, his favorite sport is golf.
"I've been to the Masters a couple times," he said. "It was awesome. We belong to a club downtown and my dad and I try to make it out as much as possible. We even have a putting and chipping green in our backyard."
Anderson and fellow defensive end/golf enthusiast Ben Gardner have played together twice, with the latter getting the best of him.
"I'm a little mad about that," said Anderson, who shoots in the low 80s. "Both times I've driven it well and hit my irons well, but couldn't make a putt to save my life."
If the thought of Anderson and the 6-4, 275-pound Gardner pounding drives sounds a little scary, consider this: "I put a pretty good charge into it, but (Josh) Nunes hits it pretty far, too," he said.
During the football season, Anderson doesn't touch a club.
"The problem is, I've got so many jammed fingers and little bumps and bruises everywhere," he said. "It's hard to swing."
For now, his focus is on Colorado and finishing the season strong.
"I think I've improved on different things each week, but I'd still like to work on different aspects of my game and keep getting better these last four games," said Anderson. "You never play a perfect game on defense."