OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Pound the drums with pride, Mike Anderson thought.
Prove himself doing something enjoyable, making the drums sing with an
authoritative sound that echoes his deep, baritone voice.
That was his reaction as a South Carolina high school freshman when the
football coaches at Fairfield
Central High School
told him he was too muscular and bulky to compete at running back.
So, the future NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and burly Marine didn’t play
high school football at all, refusing to bend to their suggestions that he learn
a three-point stance and become a lineman.
Instead, he played the quints, a set of five small drums that hung from his
still has them and breaks them out every once in a while to make sure he hasn’t
lost his touch.
“I always loved music,” Anderson
recalled in a quiet tone at his locker stall in the Baltimore Ravens’ locker
room. “The drums were good to me. I liked the rhythm of it and the discipline
that it took to hit them just right."
His unusual path to the NFL, and eventually the Ravens’ backfield, didn’t
stop there, though, continuing a divergent football route.
Forget Vince Papale. The back story of how Anderson
went from an unknown Marine who dabbled in football to an established
32-year-old NFL veteran clearly trumps “Invincible.”
After graduating from high school, Anderson
joined the Marines and endured a rigorous 13-week boot camp at
Parris Island, S.C., before being
stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
He traveled the world, engaging in peace-keeping missions in
and Kenya, including
dangerous duties such as nighttime patrols.
“I was prepared for any situation because they trained me so well,”
said. “I knew the risks and I accepted them. Yes, it was scary at times, but you
learn to overcome your fears. It’s not about being a hero. It’s about doing your
A few of Anderson’s Marine buddies
enlisted him to join their flag football team. It was his first organized
experience in the game since his Pop Warner days. He quickly graduated to a
full-contact team at Camp
left the Corps in 1996 with a corporal's rank, college tuition money, put on 40
pounds of muscle and a growing reputation as a football prospect.
“The military background gave me a lot more discipline,”
said. “To this day, I jump out of bed because I feel like sleep is overrated.
Having discipline gives you a winning attitude and a never-say-never attitude
that transfers to life, too.
“When you’re a Marine, you don’t complain. You follow orders. You’re not a
quitter. You take pride in being part of a team and putting it on the line for
A retired Marine lieutenant colonel recruited Anderson
to play for two years at Mount San Jacinto Community College in
California, where he emerged as an All-American and the
California Junior College Player of the Year when he rushed for 1,686 yards as a
That led to a scholarship from the University
of Utah, where he impressed enough by
averaging 104.2 rushing yards per game that the Denver Broncos picked him in the
sixth round in 2000.
When he arrived at Denver, the
25-year-old rookie thought he would be cut because of the presence of star
running backs like Terrell Davis and Olandis Gary.
Because of their injuries and his perseverance, Anderson wound up beating out
Ravens running back Jamal Lewis for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year by gaining 1,487 yards and scoring
For years, Anderson
constantly had to prove himself to Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, enduring
demotions, a two-year stint at fullback blocking for Clinton Portis and a major
injury in 2004 when he tore two muscles in his groin.
When Anderson returned last season, he had to beat out Ron Dayne and Tatum Bell and wound up rushing for
and 12 touchdowns.
He also made a lasting impression on trash-talking Ravens linebacker Bart Scott last December in the Ravens’ narrow loss to the Broncos.
“I hit him on fourth down and started talking trash to him and he just stared
at me with the blankest, deadest stare I've ever seen,” Scott said. “It was
like, ‘You fool.’ There was absolutely no reaction. You can tell he was in the
Marines because he’s disciplined and he’s tough. It's a waste of time to try to
At 6-foot, 230 pounds,
has always epitomized a physical running style, thriving on contact and a strict
routine of exercise and a healthy diet. He's always been a morning person, too.
“Mike Anderson is a great football player, but he’s an even better person,”
said Ravens defensive end Trevor Pryce, Anderson’s
former Broncos teammate. “At training camp, I roomed with him and he would just
jump up out of bed and be ready to lift weights, eat breakfast and practice.
“I couldn’t do that. I need my sleep, but Mike is just a tough guy. He loves
football as much, if not more than anyone on this team. He never complains.”
is Lewis’ backup after signing a four-year, $8 million contract that included a
$2 million signing bonus this spring hours before Lewis unexpectedly decided to
remain in Baltimore after abruptly
canceling a free-agent visit to Denver.
Anderson is part of a crowded backfield that includes Lewis and Musa Smith,
who led Baltimore
in rushing this preseason.
“I’m excited about it,” Anderson
said. “Whatever happens with playing time, I want us to have success. Hopefully,
we’ll win ball games by working together. I’m used to sharing the workload after
playing in Denver. These guys have to
get used to that.
“We’re all about the team and we all get along. Hopefully, we’ll walk out of
here with health in hand and we’ll have that punch as running backs. We’re
blessed to play this game.”
has been slowed by minor injuries this preseason, including a mild concussion
and a sprained foot.
Healthy again, he started the preseason finale against the Washington Redskins and gained 26 yards on nine carries.
He also caught two passes for
“It felt good to stay out there and get into a rhythm with the offense,”
said. “I’m starting to feel real comfortable with the scheme and what we’re
doing. I can’t wait for the regular season to start.”
will celebrate his 33rd birthday on Sept. 21. After spending four years in the
Marines, he considers himself to be well-preserved.
“I’m not as old as people think I am,” said Anderson, who has gained 3,822 yards and scored
36 touchdowns in six full NFL seasons “I feel good and I still have a lot left
It’s unclear what sort of defined role Anderson
will have during the season, although there are scenarios where he’ll act as a
short-yardage and goal-line runner and possibly give Lewis a breather for a
series or two.
“There's no such difficulty with having three good backs," Ravens coach Brian
Billick said. "We're going to run the ball about 500 times. I'm sure they care,
and I'm receptive to that, but as long as there's depth there, I don't much care
who gets what carry.
“You need depth. We've got it. We'll find a role for them all. .. We know
what Mike Anderson is about. We’re lucky to have Mike Anderson on this football
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in