Friday, September 7, 2007
It's possible that Kansas University football coach Mark Mangino never has scouted a single high school player more than running back Brandon McAnderson.
Of course, there's a reason for that.
McAnderson was being watched by Mangino almost every week during the Lawrence High graduate's sensational senior season. Sitting in the stands on most Friday nights, Mangino was there as a college coach - but more importantly, as a father.
"That's probably the most high school games I saw in a long, long time," Mangino said with a chuckle.
McAnderson was a standout linebacker for the Lions, but he also took handoffs from LHS quarterback Tommy Mangino, the KU coach's son.
McAnderson had 236 carries for 1,789 yards his senior year in just 11 games. Midway through that season, Mangino offered McAnderson a scholarship, which quickly was accepted.
Fast-forward five years, and McAnderson finally is getting his chance as a ball carrier in college. Last week against Central Michigan, the 6-foot, 235-pound senior had 16 carries for 110 yards, picking up big gains consistently and helping the Jayhawks to a 52-7 victory.
His performance wasn't a shock to many. Back in 2002, Mangino sat in the stands at Haskell Stadium and envisioned McAnderson's potential to be an effective ball carrier in college.
"I thought he could. I really did," Mangino said. "I watched him in high school, watched him on tape. He's the type of guy that can make people miss."
Lawrence High coach Dirk Wedd thought so, too. But when McAnderson signed with Kansas, the intriguing question surrounding him was whether he was better-suited for offense or defense at the college level.
There was no clear answer.
"I really thought he was a better linebacker than a running back coming out of high school," Wedd said. "But Coach needed a fullback, and he's really the ideal fullback at the college level. I hope he's the ideal fullback at the next level, too, but we'll have to wait and see."
Mangino's first description of McAnderson the ball-carrier - a "guy that can make people miss" - is interesting because McAnderson looks like the exact opposite of that type of runner. He's thick and strong, and doesn't give the appearance of having the quick feet and elusiveness that your stereotypical running back has.
"He's not going to make three guys miss on one play, but he has the ability to make the first tackler miss," Mangino insisted. "Because he gets his pads down, he's going to get YAC yardage - yards after contact.
"We keep a stat here that will be posted for the running backs each week. Yards after contact. He is very good in that area. His power and his forward lean give him extra yards after the first hit."
McAnderson split carries with sophomore Jake Sharp, and that likely will continue when Kansas plays Southeastern Louisiana at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
For one, Sharp and McAnderson are a perfect yin and yang - McAnderson big and bruising, Sharp small and shifty.
But it's also because of other duties. Sharp and McAnderson both play special teams, and McAnderson is considered one of KU's top players on the kickoff-coverage unit. He was the Jayhawks' special teams player of the year in 2006.
That knack was noticeable against Central Michigan. Wedd was in attendance at the KU game last week, and he watched McAnderson bully his way to nearly seven yards a carry on offense. By halftime, Wedd was beaming with pride - but not necessarily for any of the rushing yards that finally made McAnderson the offensive weapon he strived to be.
"He had carried the ball 14, 15 times," Wedd explained. "It was late in the second quarter, he goes out on a kickoff, it's 28-0, and he busts his butt down there and makes a tackle right in front of where I was sitting.
"He wasn't a prima donna running back. He was just being a hard-working kid that rolls up his sleeves and will do whatever it takes to win a football game."