MOSCOW, Idaho _ Mike Anderson is on his third defensive coordinator and playing his third position on the University of Idaho defense.
And he’s only a redshirt junior.
Yet this much is clear: Wherever he lines up and whomever he’s being coached by, Anderson is highly productive on the football field. He led Idaho with 97 tackles last season (while playing three different positions) and came up with 54 two years ago when he made three starts as a freshman.
His latest move – from linebacker to end – figures to be his last. It’s a position at which he made a cameo at the end of the 2003 season and at which he’ll be stationed when the Vandals open up against Boise State on Saturday in Bronco Stadium.
“At end (Anderson) has more of a chance to impact a game because he’s rushing the passer a lot,” first-year Idaho head coach Nick Holt said. “He’d be really good at linebacker, too, but he’s a guy that will make more of a difference pass-rushing than dropping into a curl zone.”
Anderson misses playing linebacker, but he has no reservations with his new job description.
“I would probably say linebacker is my favorite position because you’re in on every play and you can kind of control the game more because you’re making the defensive calls,” he said. “I love defensive end because I don’t have to think about things as much anymore. I just go after the quarterback, and I’ve always enjoyed blitzing the quarterback.”
Moving to end required Anderson to alter his preseason preparation. He needed to bulk up from 230 pounds and did so the old-fashioned way: four or five eggs and toast every morning; a couple of tuna sandwiches for lunch; steak, chicken or pasta for dinner, with potatoes. Throw in a daily 900-calorie protein shake and some heavy weightlifting and Anderson opened fall drills at 245 pounds.
“I cooked for myself this summer, but my mom taught me well,” he said. “And once a week during summer, we’d try to get five or six guys and take the boat out and then my dad likes to make a big old feast.”
Beyond the added weight, Anderson adhered to end-specific training techniques with UI’s strength and conditioning staff. He sounds like a track coach when he discussed his goals, and that shouldn’t be too surprising. Anderson was a state champion in the 400 meters at Lewiston High and also ran legs on relay teams.
“I went from trying to have a lot of lateral speed to more getting out of the blocks, like in track,” he said. “We worked on my starts like track – the mechanics of shin angle, how high your thigh should get and where your plant foot is when it comes down. I worked on that for a month or two this summer and it really helped me get a lot quicker on my first five to six steps.”
Then again, Anderson has always been a quick study. As a youth, he described himself as intense and a bit short-tempered. “Football was kind of built for somebody like me,” he said.
As a recruited walk-on at Idaho, he needed all of three days to convince former coach Tom Cable to hand over a scholarship by the following semester.
From the moment he hit the field, Anderson has had a knack for making plays.
“Let me tell you this,” quarterback Michael Harrington begins. “I live right across from him and last week he tells me, ‘The coaching staff said I can’t get blocked in the scrimmage (last Saturday).’ I said, ‘OK, Mike, whatever.’
“We get to the scrimmage the next day and he did not get blocked. I went over to his place later and said, ‘You need to get blocked because we’re not going to get anything done.’ He must have sacked me five times.”
Close – three sacks, four tackles for loss.
Anderson is in the mold of several former self-made Vandals who transitioned from linebacker to end to take advantage of their swift feet. Holt mentioned the names of Ryan Phillips, who went on to play linebacker in the NFL, and Barry Mitchell, who had NFL tryouts. Like Anderson, those two arrived at Idaho with speed, but weighed 205 pounds or so.
“Ends don’t need to be huge,” Holt said, “as long as they’re fast and quick.”
Anderson fits the bill, but the only position he cares about is where Idaho ends up in the standings.
“I think .500 is definitely a very attainable goal for us and so is winning a conference championship,” he said. “If we play our tails off, we have a shot at it.”