Dec. 28, 2012
During the last seven games of the season, Stanford junior defensive end Henry Anderson might as well have been lining up in the opponent's backfields. The 6-foot-6, 278-pounder from Atlanta recorded 11.5 tackles for loss during the Cardinal's closing seven consecutive victories to win the Pac-12 Conference championship.
"You just start to feel a lot better out there and feel more confident," said Anderson, who started all 13 games and will play a big role in the Rose Bowl Game against Wisconsin on Jan. 1. "The more repetitions you get in game situations, the more comfortable you get."
Once he mastered his assignments, Anderson was able to play more aggressively. He finished with 48 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, broke up four passes and defensed four others for the stellar Stanford defense.
"A lot of it was that the game slowed down for me on the field," he said. "I wasn't really guessing as much and played more fundamentally sound and did a better job of playing the way coach (Randy) Hart tells us to play."
Hart credits hard off-season work for Anderson's improved play. Last year, he played in all 13 games and collected six tackles.
"Everything just clicked," said Hart. "He came in early and had some goals to meet, and decided to work hard and achieved those goals. He had to re-set the bar. He's set himself up to be successful and to keep on getting better."
Anderson isn't surprised by his ascension.
"I knew I had it in me," he said. "I just had to settle down and get used to things out there. I knew if I got more repetitions, it would get better and that's what happened."
According to Hart, Anderson, a political science major, uses his mind as well as his enormous physical skills to get a jump on offensive linemen.
"He's a very smart guy," Hart said. "He understands protections and understands what the offense is trying to do to him, so every now and then, he can take the proper step to get out of trouble and make plays because of it."
Anderson credits his teammates for allowing him to make so many plays behind the line of scrimmage.
"It's nice having guys like Shayne (Skov), Chase (Thomas), Murph (Trent Murphy) and Ben (Gardner) around, knowing you've got playmakers all over the field," said Anderson. "If you don't make a play, you've got guys that have your back. That was one of the big factors that led me to playing better and better during the season."
Stanford leads the nation in tackles for losses (120) and sacks (56), and is ranked third against the run (87.69), and 14th in scoring defense (17.46). It figures to be tested by a big, powerful running team like Wisconsin, which piled up 539 yards rushing in its 70-31 victory over Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Badgers have three talented backs, led by Doak Walker Award winner Montee Ball.
"It will be the most physical game we play all year," Anderson said. "It's going to be like two freight trains running into each other. They like to run downhill and really pound you up front and exploit any weaknesses they can find in the front seven. We just have to hang in there and pound them. Play low, fast and hard." Defensive coordinator Derek Mason knows it will be a challenge, but thinks his group is ready for it. They key, he said, is playing together.
"It's the concept of the fist versus the fingers," he said. "We all know fists are stronger than fingers. Collectively, we're great. Individually, we're good. We want to move from good to great."
While Anderson grew up in Atlanta, his parents, Eric and Ellen, were born and raised in Madison, Wis., and graduated from University of Wisconsin. Eric is still a diehard Badgers fan and has the memorabilia to prove it.
"When it became pretty clear that Wisconsin was going to win (against Nebraska), I told Henry that I was definitely going to be rooting for Stanford and there would be no hard feelings if they kicked Wisconsin's butt," said Eric, an attorney. "If the unthinkable happens and things go the other way, I wouldn't have too many hard feelings, either."
Eric and Ellen attended most Stanford games this year. They'll bring older son Ian and younger daughter Eva to the Rose Bowl Game.
"It's always been a lot of fun watching our kids play sports, but this is a big thrill," Eric said. "In some ways, we sort of pinch ourselves sometimes when we look out there and see our son playing big-time college football and excelling. It's thrilling, but it's sometimes hard to believe."
Anderson is confident his father won't let him down.
"Hopefully, he'll be cheering us on," he said. "If I see him wearing a Wisconsin shirt at any point in the game, I'll be pretty mad."
No worries, said Eric.
"As happy as I am about the Badgers being in the Rose Bowl again, I kind of wish there was somebody on the other side of the field that I could generate some bad feelings for, but I have a hard time doing that with my Badgers," Eric said. "But I'll still be rooting for Stanford."
-- Mark Soltau, Stanford Athletics