November 3, 2010

Stephen Anderson has his sights on Air Force

Stephen Anderson saw this coming more than four years ago. So did his classmates at the United States Military Academy Prep School in Fort Monmouth, N.J.

Guys like Zach Peterson and Josh McNary, Patrick Mealy and Donnie Dixon. Guys like Donovan Travis and [db]Matt Campbell.

They all attended USMAPS right out of high school, in 2006. At West Point the Black Knights would finish 3-9 that season, completing a five-year period that produced 10 wins and 49 losses.

Not to worry the 18 year-olds thought. Not to worry. Because they knew.

"Our prep school class finished 8-2, so we were always the team that was going to bring football back to West Point,'' Anderson said on Tuesday. "We just didn't know when, how soon or when we'd be able to play together again.

"Last year we got a taste of it and this year more so, and that's what we planned to do since prep school year. We used to talk about bringing football back to West Point and that's what we're doing and what we're going to continue to do; keep working hard and holding people accountable for what they're doing and making sure everybody's doing the right things so we can keep getting these wins.''

They will be going for their third win in their last four games on Saturday, hosting the Air Force Academy at Michie Stadium (noon, CBS-CS).

Anderson, No. 50, senior, middle linebacker, can't wait. For several reasons.

He caught a cleat in the turf at Falcon Stadium last November, right near the end of the game. He had led Army with 14 tackles, but he would undergo knee surgery and miss all of spring practice.

He has been a force again, and he holds no grudges regarding his injury.

However, the play before the injury, that's another story.

Ahead 28-7 with just a few minutes to play, Air Force threw a deep pass into the end zone. The ball was dropped, the message was not.

They were trying to run up the score … I knew if we were in that position it wouldn't be like that. I just think there's not as much respect for us as we have for them.

- Middle Linebacker, Steve Anderson

"They were trying to run up the score,'' said the 5-foot-10, 230-pound package of explosives. "I knew if we were in that position it wouldn't be like that. I just think there's not as much respect for us as we have for them.

"I've learned to know them as a Cadet and as a football player against them. I'm just looking to get another shot at 'em my last year.''

His last year has so far been his best. And his team's. They have now won 10 games in the past two years, the best two-year mark since the 1995-96 seasons.

Anderson leads the team with 56 tackles - 36 solo - has made six tackles behind the line of scrimmage, has one interception, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. "I've been playing well,'' he said matter-of-factly. "I think we have more team defense this year so there's a lot more guys making plays. I feel I'm playing up to expectations. I feel good, man. I'm playing well, I'm playing fast, I'm playing smart, I'm playing physical. It's just a matter of playing on instincts this week and making plays.''

He sat out the second half of the VMI game last week with a "tweaked'' hamstring, but said he is fine and ready to go. More than ready. "After the VMI game I've been so excited to play Air Force. It's been on my mind at least every couple of hours. I just have to remember to keep the emotions down. It's definitely a game I've circled on my calendar since I got injured.''

While he recites the mantra of his coach that the next game is the most important game of the year, he quickly adds that, "It just happens to be Air Force, it just happens to be the Commander In Chief's Trophy, and it just happens to be the game we can become bowl eligible. All that is important and brings more emotion to the game, and we're going to be fired up about it.

"We're going to be excited to finally be out there and play the game so all this stuff - all the smoke and mirrors before the game - is over so we can just play our game. And if we just play Army football we'll be fine.''

All seems fine off the football field. Anderson said he is taking, "a pretty light load'' this semester, though it sure doesn't sound like it: History of Military Art; Military Leadership; Systems Engineering; Advanced Composition; History of Cuba; Criminology.

Majoring in law, he said he may be a lawyer when his military commitment is complete. As for his next destination, he'd love to be part of the Infantry or Field Artillery.

"I definitely want to do that,'' he said. "That's what my personality demands. I think I can do a lot out in those fields. So that's what I want to do and that's what I am going to do. If it's something I know I will have fun doing, then I won't have to work a day in my life.''

That certainly does not apply this weekend. Nor has it the past four years. But that's not to say he doesn't continue to have fun.

One of his nicknames is Fity, for two reasons. One, his jersey number is 50. The other relates to musical entertainer "50 Cent'' a celebrity rapper. Linebacker coach Robert Lyles dubbed him, reason being, Anderson said, that he likes to have fun while he plays and likes to entertain people when he plays. And that, Anderson said, is what 50 Cent does.

He is also nicknamed Hollywood, the reason, "Because I always try to steal the spotlight I guess. It's just part of having fun when you're playing the game.''

Anderson can certainly steal the spotlight on the football field. "Being the quarterback of the defense was something I loved to do. Yeah, I used to love running the ball (in high school), but I love the feeling like I'm in control, and being middle linebacker kind of allows me to have that ability.''

Kind of reminds him of his favorite animals, those being lions, tigers and bald eagles. He explains: "Lions and tigers are ferocious animals when they have to be,'' he explained. "They attack when they have to attack; they're calm and collected when they're just relaxing with their family and stuff.

"The Bald Eagle is a rare animal. You don't know a lot about it and you don't know its actions and it's so rare that it has to be interesting. And it's our country's symbol, so you can't go wrong with that.''

And you can't go wrong applying those qualities to No. 50. "Yeah, they all tie me into one animal itself, if you want to call me an animal,'' he said with a laugh.

He will be that Saturday afternoon, perhaps more than ever. And he won't be alone, especially not with the class of 2011 around him. "You are going to see a game with a lot of energy, a lot of intensity and a lot of Black Knights flying around the field, '' he said.

Flying. Like Bald Eagles. Sweeping in for the kill.

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