With spring football wrapping up at Washington State and the NFL draft sucking everyone’s good sense out of a fine weekend, it seemed the right time to reaffirm that Jeshua Anderson is alive and well and thriving without the pointed ball.
Which is not to say he’s given up on it, completely.
It’s been seven months since Anderson turned in his Cougar football jersey to devote himself full time to running the hurdles, which he does both with style and substance like no one else has at Wazzu. He allows that the timing of that decision was regrettable – just a couple of weeks into a soon-to-be-woeful 2009 season – and reconciling it with his family was the most difficult part of all.
“I’m glad my teammates understood,” he said. “Maybe the coaches were a little disappointed. I still love the game. I probably just didn’t have the passion that I used to have for it. I’m sure it’ll come back.”
“I want to accomplish some things on the track, this year and in years to come,” Anderson said. “When I accomplish what I want to do, hopefully I’ll be young enough – and still have young enough legs – to proceed on to do the football thing.”
It was a happy reflection on the Cougar zen that his choice prompted far more acceptance than public scorn. Whatever his gifts as a receiver, they do not compare to what he can achieve for Washington State on the track, and this is easily grasped.
As it was after his most recent run over the 400-meter hurdles a couple of weeks ago at the Mt. SAC Relays in California.
This spring, Anderson and assistant coach Mark Macdonald have been trying to establish an unflinching pattern of 13 strides between hurdles. This is the breakthrough that carried Edwin Moses to glory in the event, and even three decades later requires a level of strength and steadiness possessed by but a few practitioners.
Running at Mt. SAC in front of family members always gets Anderson a little jazzed. Macdonald and head coach Rick Sloan counseled calm instead, and through six hurdles Anderson looked fantastic.
“It was so easy it looked like he was running 15s,” Sloan said. “Then he came off No. 6 and it looked like he took what we told him too literally – it looked like he almost quit running. So he had to go to 14 strides to get to No. 7, and then 14 again to get back to taking the hurdle with his dominant leg.”
And then he went back to 13 strides.
Understand that nobody does this, not after losing rhythm and momentum 300 meters into what may be track’s toughest race.
“Everybody else is in survival mode at that point,” Sloan said. “I found it miraculous.”
Yet because of the midrace nap, the general pronouncement was that it was only a “so-so” race.
Anderson finished in 49.11 seconds. It’s the year’s best collegiate time, and No. 3 in the world.
And last week, he was back out on Mooberry Track practicing his 13s – only this time with an extra, 11th hurdle added at the end.
Because of his aborted football season, Anderson was able for the first time to join in the track team’s rigorous fall workouts, where a base of strength is established. That both his previous track seasons ended with NCAA championships without this background is remarkable enough – until Macdonald saw what he could do in those workouts.
“We do things like run 20 times 200 meters and he just killed it,” Macdonald said. “Whatever you gave him, he almost laughed at it. He’d be dancing. If he knew he could handle the workout, he’d almost mock it by taking shorter rest. He couldn’t do enough to get tired.”
That, of course, ups the expectation for what can be accomplished this season, which continues Saturday with the annual dual meet against Washington in Pullman. A third NCAA title. Lowering his school record of 48.47. The Pac-10 record – 47.72, now 22 years old, by UCLA’s Kevin Young. The collegiate record – 47.56.
If he starts running in that neighborhood, there will be a different kind of pressure – to turn professional.
There’s been some already, though not enough to tempt him.
“I’m just staying patient,” Anderson said. “I’ll have some decisions to make eventually, I know, but like my dad tells me, ‘You want them to get to the point where they have to beg for you.’ ”
Macdonald puts it in more digestible terms.
“For the people that think he was dumb to give up football and the possibility of the NFL, he’ll do just fine,” Macdonald said – noting that with no world championships this year and the Olympics sitting out there beyond graduation, Anderson also has timing in his favor.
“It could put him in a situation similar to, say, (Washington quarterback) Jake Locker has – where he’ll be worth more in the long term. It’s probably good that he doesn’t have to do something right now. He’ll have options. There’s nothing to force him either way.”
There’s another thing. Those records? He’d like to have them. The NCAA titles? A four-pack sounds pretty good. And having not made a senior national team yet, he knows where he is – and isn’t.
“I don’t see myself as the best,” he said. “I’m good for a collegian. I still have a lot of work to do.”
And the passion to do it.