INDIANAPOLIS – Want to know where the baddest man at the NFL combine, the two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year and top-rated overall prospect for next month’s NFL draft whom they call “The Terminator” found his passion for football?
“My passion began my sophomore year in high school with a new head coach, Clifford Fedd, and honestly like one day he had me crying in the weight room ’cause I couldn’t lift the weight,” former Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. explained.
“He was like, ‘Go down to the last rack!’ and then after that, like my whole mentality, my whole mindset, my passion for the game changed and I started loving it.”
Anderson said he wouldn’t be where he is today, on the threshold of becoming one of the top picks in the draft, if it hadn’t been for that painstaking experience at Dutchtown High in Hampton, Georgia. Back then, he said, he was just an average football player with no special skills, determination, or passion to separate himself from the pack.
But that initial moment in the weight room with Fedd changed everything.
“I started embracing that change,” Anderson said Wednesday during his media session at the Indianapolis Convention Center. “I started embracing them getting on me. And it got to the point where we had spring break, winter break and I’m like, ‘Coach, I want extra work.’ Like, ‘C’mon, I want to be doing what everybody is else doing.’
“It started getting to the point where I’m challenging him in practice like, ‘We’re going to let practice go by like that?’ Like, ‘No pads today?’ and stuff like that. That’s when I started embracing the game and loving the game and having passion for it.”
Anderson isn’t likely to last beyond the No. 3 overall pick, which presently belongs to the Cardinals, and in addition to his eye-popping college stats, ideal size, and physical attributes, he seems to fit perfectly into the type of player specifications that new general manager Monti Ossenfort covets.
“I’m looking for guys that love football,” Ossenfort said recently during “Newsmakers Week” on Arizona Sports 98.7-FM. “Everybody in this department agrees if we can find guys who love football, guys that compete, guys that will put the team first, that’s where we’re going to start. It starts with adding those types of players.
“We are looking to marry that with talented players and we’re going to get those players on our team.”
Arizona has been linked to the top three defensive prospects in this year’s draft class – Anderson, former Texas Tech outside linebacker Tyree Wilson and former Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter, at least until Carter abruptly left the combine on Wednesday after the Athens-Clarke County Police Department issued an arrest warrant for him.
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Carter is accused of misdemeanor counts of reckless driving and racing as part of an investigation into a car crash that killed Georgia offensive lineman Devin Willock and recruiting staff member Chandler LeCroy in January. Carter, who maintains he will be fully exonerated, surrendered to authorities in Athens, Georgia late Wednesday night and was booked and released after posting bonds totaling $4,000.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday at the combine before the news on Carter became public, Ossenfort was asked what he likes about those top three prospects.
“I’m probably not going to get into too many specifics but those are three players that I have studied and will continue to study and am anxious to meet with them and will do more work with them this week,” he said. “Those are three talented players, and they all bring different skill sets and they’ve had good college careers and we’re excited to dive more into them and see exactly how they would fit for our team moving forward.”
It’s no secret the Cardinals need a game-changing playmaker off the edge, especially following the retirement of veteran J.J. Watt. Like Watt, Anderson can be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks whether he lines up inside or outside. He did both at Alabama and dominated each of the past two seasons en route to being named a two-time unanimous All-American.
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His best year came two seasons ago as a sophomore when he finished with 101 tackles and led the nation with 17½ sacks and 31 tackles for loss. In addition to winning an FBS national title in 2020, Anderson has won the Lombardi Award, the Lott Trophy, the Chuck Bednarik Award and twice, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.
“It was phenomenal. It was crazy,” Anderson said of his 2021 season. “It was a blessing and it set me up big time. But that was all the hard work from my freshman year to my sophomore year and it clicked for me. I could start processing things faster. I could start seeing plays coming and things like that and the coaches did a real good job helping me to do that.”
As much as Anderson said he learned under Nick Saban and his other coaches in college, it was the inspiration he learned from Fedd that kick-started his career, his passion for the game and drive to be the best.
Reached in the weight room Thursday morning at Griffin (Ga.) High, where he’s the school’s new head football coach, Fedd said he vividly remembers that day at Dutchtown when the switch flipped for Anderson.
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“It’s been amazing,” Fedd told The Republic by phone. “He’s had an amazing journey. We’ve had a lot of conversations over time, and I was able to tell him how things were going to be going forward if he did this, if he did that, if he took care of this, if he took care of that. He went with it and he’s only getting better.
“He’s a student of the game. He’s one of those young men who’s going to do anything and everything that he needs to do in order to be successful. But as a teammate. It’s never always about him. I remember playing him at tight end and moving him around because that’s where we needed him for the team and he’s big on team, he’s big on family. It’s not about him. He wants to see everybody successful.”
Anderson said nothing needs to motivate him to get ready to play a football game, that it’s “already in me.” But just like Fedd said, Anderson gets the most satisfaction out of seeing others thrive around him, saying, “The biggest thing for me is jumping up and down with my brothers, celebrating making plays.”
“That’s what football is all about and that’s why I love it because you get to make those memories with guys in the locker room – long-lasting relationships with those guys – and that’s why I love the game so much.”
Anderson recognized the talents of all the other pass rushers in this year’s draft class but said what separates him from the rest is his consistency, humbleness, and ability to fit into whatever culture he’s in. The key, he said, is “I’m going to do things the right way and I think that’s what sets me apart.”
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The Cardinals met with Anderson this week at the combine and Anderson said he can envision himself playing in Arizona should he end up being the pick at No. 3.
“Most definitely. You could see what the coach (Jonathan Gannon) did in Philadelphia,” he said. “He had his guys on the edge going and that’s something I really like – get on the edge and go. So, I’m very excited about that.”
This is just the beginning, though. According to Fedd, the kid who once cried in the weight room back in high school “is going to be a force” in the NFL.
“He’s going to use his speed, he’s going to use his quickness and he’s going to continue to work his craft,” the coach said. “He’s never satisfied. He’s going to always put in the work. He’s going to continue to raise his ceiling. He’s self-motivated, he’s self-enthusiastic. He just has what coaches call that ‘it’ factor.
“Whichever team is fortunate to have him, he’s going to let them know that he’s extremely appreciative of them trusting in him to draft him. … He’s going to be on time, he’s going to bust his tail and he’s going to exceed everything they ask him to do.”
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