March 31, 2008

Center Of It All: Anderson Enjoys New Position

Steve Spurrier's words still resonate with Garrett Anderson.

Speaking in front of several hundred Gamecock faithful at the Florence County Gamecock Club meeting March 6, Spurrier told the crowd this about Anderson:

"Garrett is strong and he works his butt off in the weight room and in conditioning, but he doesn't play very well. At least he hasn't yet. But Garrett's a young guy. Our entire offensive line needs to play better. . .Garrett is ready to do it. But he hasn't done it yet, though. We have a bunch of guys who need to do it when we come into Williams-Brice and 81,000 people are screaming yelling and the game is on the line."

Tough words, no doubt.

But here's the rub: Anderson concurs with his head coach.

"I agree with him 100 percent," Anderson said. "I feel right now that I have not produced the way I should have. I keep on hearing about potential and what not. But I haven't really contributed to this (football team) yet. I'm trying to figure it out, what I have to do. I'm hoping what I've done in the off-season will pay off."

Anderson isn't alone among USC's group of over a dozen scholarship offensive linemen when it comes to needing to play better. Spurrier said Friday the offensive line had to stop being pushed around and stand its ground.

"We have to get better," Anderson said. "That's all it is. The facts are the facts."

After playing mostly guard in his first two seasons, Anderson now has a new position - center. The coaching staff is eyeing him as the successor to William Brown.

Anderson knows he has his work cut out trying to equal the high standards established by Brown.

"Web did a great job last year," Anderson said. "He really held down the center spot. He really didn't have a bad game at all. If we can find a center - hopefully it's me - we'll have a great line."

The plans to move Anderson to center are currently in a holding pattern with Anderson sidelined with an inflamed disc in his back. He sat out Saturday's first spring scrimmage at Williams-Brice Stadium, though he has participated in practice.

Anderson knows 2008 is a critical year for him if he wants to remain a factor on the offensive line.

"I realize I'm going into my junior year and that I'm only halfway done," Anderson said. "I don't think I've started 12 games so far. I know I have to step up and do everything I possibly can to be able to play. If I'm going to play, now is the time."

Anderson was one of the most highly sought after offensive line prospects in the Palmetto State in the class of 2006. He was named the South Carolina Football Coaches Association Lineman of the Year

Not surprisingly, Anderson was the subject of an intense recruiting battle. He had the opportunity to sign with Clemson, but declined. Instead, he opted to stay near his Irmo, S.C. home and sign with the Gamecocks.

As soon as he stepped on the USC campus, the debate began. Along with a number of other highly regarded offensive linemen, Anderson faced the question of playing as a true freshmen or redshirting.

Most of the group redshirted.

Anderson played; bucking the conventional wisdom that contends true freshmen offensive lineman shouldn't play in the SEC. In fact, he started four games in 2006 - Wofford, Florida Atlantic, Auburn and Kentucky. Eventually, he played in all 13 games.

Does Anderson regret not having a redshirt season to improve his strength and build up his body to take the punishment from SEC defensive linemen? No.

"It would have given me an extra year, but I trust the coaches' decision," Anderson said.

Anderson suffered a setback in his development when he suffered a broken bone in his hand during a scuffle with Ladi Ajiboye early in fall camp prior to the 2007 season.

Still, he fought back and, despite having to wear a hand cast to help the broken bone heal, he regained his starting spot by the time the season opener arrived.

When the 2007 season opened, Anderson was entrenched on the offensive line. He started the first four games of the season at left guard (Louisiana-Lafayette, Georgia, LSU) and right guard (S.C. State).

But, still struggling with his hand injury, Anderson soon fell of favor with the coaching staff when he started performing poorly. He was pulled midway through the LSU game and didn't start another game the rest of the year.

Seaver Brown took over as the starting left guard beginning with the Mississippi State game. He remained in that position until replaced by Gurminder Thind for the final two games.

By the time the second half of the season rolled around, Anderson's role had diminished considerably. But, he didn't
stop working hard. He was often the last player to leave the practice field, taking his daily frustrations out on the blocking sled.

"Mostly, I was just trying to get better," Anderson said. "I was angry at myself for not being able to play and not playing the best I could. I just wanted to see if I could do anything extra to contribute to this team."

Anderson views his recent shift to center as a new lease on his college football career.

"I like it. It was different when I first started doing it because I had always played guard or tackle," Anderson said. "When you're the center, the ball is right there and you have to snap it too. It's different, but I started working at it last spring and last fall. I'm feeling more comfortable with it."

Anderson, who snaps the ball left-handed, was listed as the first-team center ahead of Brown and Ryan Broadhead when spring practice opened March 21.

"The snap is something you need to practice over and over again," Anderson said. "You want it to be natural, almost like you don't realize you're snapping the ball. You're just going to block somebody."

Although he didn't play much down the stretch last season, Anderson will likely be considered one of the leaders of the offensive line this upcoming season along with senior tackles Jamon Meredith and Justin Sorensen.

"I know there are a lot of guys who have played more than I have," Anderson said. "They deserve it a lot more than I do. But hopefully, if I can prove myself, it will happen."

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