ATLANTA — Will Anderson Jr. cried.
He wasn’t where he wanted to be physically, mentally or in any other respect when he first made a commitment to play football five years ago as a 10th-grader at Hampton (Georgia) Dutchtown High, and lost control of his emotions in the weight room one day.
Forget that he would go from there to become the best defensive player in college football. The tears aren’t what’s important here – that we learned they fell from his face at all is tells more about Anderson as any tackle or sack.
We know this not because it’s been written about elsewhere, or because he was asked about it at SEC Media Days on Tuesday.
We know it because the Alabama star linebacker volunteered it, unsolicited, something few if any of the 41 other players speaking at the College Football Hall of Fame for SEC Media Days would ever acknowledge.
Anderson just hits different, and not in the way opposing quarterbacks would attest to, but in the off-field sense of the term. As unique a person as he is a player.
With camera lights and flashes popping in their faces incessantly, players here are chosen by their coaches largely because they’re best equipped to handle the spotlight. Questions from reporters come rapid-fire, some calling for answers that can’t be rehearsed in advance, and it’s easy to see occasional hesitation on players’ faces.
They’re encouraged to be measured in their responses, and some take that to an extreme. Their brains whir with instant calculations before they speak, hoping to strike the right balance between answering a question and properly representing self, school and family.
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“Can I answer that question honestly?”
“Can I answer it at all?”
“Will the truth be taken out of context?”
Anderson doesn’t fret over any of that. There’s no second-guessing.
With a wide grin that says he’s enjoying every moment, he takes on questions the same way he rushes the passer – not with hesitation but rather a lightning-quick first step – and an honesty that doesn’t care to go where other players might not .
He readily admits being off his game in Alabama’s lone regular-season loss to Texas A&M last year.
He readily admits to being unsure of stepping into a leadership role as a freshman in 2020, when his performance called for it even if his experience level didn’t.
Like many, he draws strength from failure.
Like few, he’s open about it.
At the same time, he’s all about the business of winning. Asked about his coach’s public spar with Jimbo Fisher in May, Anderson merely pointed toward the schedule.
“I don’t get into social media stuff, I don’t tweet about it,” he said. “But when we play Texas A&M, everything will be addressed on the field.”
Asked about NIL, he had more to say about what the revolutionary new revenue stream for athletes has done for his parents and family than what it’s done for him.
That’s what the Alabama defense, which looks to him to speak up when a coach’s tirade isn’t getting through, can expect from his undisputed leader.
A no-nonsense, genuine article.
A joy for the game.
An absence of all that’s fake and superficial.
It’s no wonder Anderson doesn’t over-engage on social media. He’s too much his own person to go where people often try to be someone else.
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread