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April 30, 2009

Anderson carving path to DI

The two eldest boys in the Anderson family both starred at Friendly High School, and the youngest, Marcus, was supposed to do the same. But Marcus Anderson took a slightly different path to football glory. Last season, the youngest Anderson brought home a championship trophy. Only, the engraved name at the bottom said "Westlake" not "Friendly."

Anderson left Friendly before 2008 and transferred to the school's cross-town rival, a move akin to treason according to some. But after Westlake demolished Friendly in the playoffs, 37-0, and then went on to win the 3A state championship, it seems Anderson made the right move.

He excelled in his first year under coach Dom Zaccarelli. The 6-foot-2, 223-pound junior linebacker finished second on the team with 68 tackles, including 14 for loss. He chipped in three sacks, seven pass breakups and one heck of an interception against La Plata.

Anderson dropped back into a zone and read the La Plata quarterback's eyes. The quarterback tried to find his receiver over the middle, but Anderson leaped up and tipped the pass. Then he pirouetted, reached out and snagged the interception before the ball hit the ground. The fun didn't end there. Anderson gathered himself, turned around and made a beeline down the sideline for a 28-yard return.

"That was one of the best interceptions by a high school linebacker in the state of Maryland last year," Zaccarelli said. "Watching him tip that pass and then run it back … For a guy that's 220 pounds, he can really move."

That interception was quintessential Anderson. He made plays all season and stepped up in the playoffs, when Westlake needed him most. Against Friendly, Anderson made sure his former school remembered him. He blitzed early and often, creating havoc in the backfield. In the quarterfinal game against Lackey, he put together a 10-tackle effort to lead the team. And in the semifinals he had another big sack in a closely-fought game against Seneca Valley.

"He's an impact athlete," Zaccarelli said. "He has a tremendous intensity level and he's physical and athletic."

Anderson is technically considered an inside linebacker, but it's not fair to pigeonhole him. Unlike most linebackers, who either blitz from the outside or read and react from the inside, Anderson does both well. Zaccarelli compared him to Brian Urlacher of the Chicago Bears - a burly, physical middle linebacker who can rush the quarterback but is equally adept at knocking passes away and tracking down running backs sideline-to-sideline.

Like Urlacher, Anderson will play primarily in the middle next season, although he might move out on the edge in certain situations. Westlake wants to take advantage of his non-stop motor.

"He's a devastating blitzer like [Colts defensive end] Dwight Freeney," Zaccarelli said. "He's got that kind of explosiveness. He can create pressure and disrupt schemes."

Anderson's on-field impact is evident, but it's his work ethic and demeanor that separates him from other athletes. When he hits the practice field or the weight room, Anderson turns into a no-nonsense, ultra-competitive machine. He trains daily to build his upper-body strength (he's currently benching 300 pounds and squatting 500) and speed (4.8 in the 40-yard dash). In practice, he's obsessed with making plays and perfecting his technique. Mistakes are unacceptable.

"He's very hard on himself. He's harder on himself than his coaches," Zaccarelli said. "It's all about getting it done on the field. He's so passionate and he wants to be a really good football player."

Anderson is deadest on playing Division I, and he has the talent to play at that level. But he knows colleges are looking for more than just a player who excels on Friday nights. The top schools don't want any embarrassments; they want guys who can take care of themselves and represent the program well.

Look no further than Marcus Anderson. He's already academically qualified, he doesn't cause trouble and he has tremendous character, according to Zaccarelli.

"Colleges are not going to have to worry about him," Zaccarelli said. "He's a low-maintenance guy. He does what he's supposed to do."

Currently, Pittsburgh, Penn State, Boston College, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and a number of Football Subdivision schools are recruiting him. His first offer could come this spring.

Until then, he'll continue carving his path to stardom.


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