Photo by Derrick Mahone
Mundy’s Mill rising junior offensive lineman Darius “Pancake” Anderson (left) is one of the reasons that rising senior Rodney Smith rushed for 1,575 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.
JONESBORO — This wasn’t the first time Darius Anderson competed at the National Underclassmen Ultimate 100 camp.
And it wasn’t just because of the awards and recognition he garnered, but for the approval he won from his harshest critic and biggest fan.
By the time the Mundy’s Mill offensive lineman left the camp held Saturday at Lassiter High, he was named Most Valuable Player. But more importantly to Anderson, he proved to himself and others who witnessed his performance, that he belongs in an elite category.
“I felt like I moved up in the world,” Anderson said. “I finally got recognized. I’d been looking forward to going to this camp. I was motivated and I used that motivation at this camp and got the award I wanted.”
Yes, Anderson had coveted the MVP award since last summer when he competed in the very same competition. He said that last year he came in green and unsuspecting.
But this year, after another go-round of the 40-yard runs, the position specific drills, the testing and one-on-ones with some of the region’s best high school linemen, the 6-foot-3, 295-pound rising junior right tackle went from unsure to unwavering.
“I tried my hardest,” he said. “I was fundamentally sound and I never gave up. I knew what to expect this year, so I just prepared myself by doing extra footwork drills and conditioning. It’s given me some pride. It let me know that I can do certain things if I try and work hard.”
To Mundy’s Mill coach Greg Manior, “certain things” means being a pace-setter on the Tigers’ fast-maturing offensive line.
“Darius is definitely the leader on the offensive line,” Manior said. “He’s probably our best linemen as a sophomore last year. He’s come on strong. He’s still kind of green because he’s so young, but he’s so far ahead so many others.”
And that’s not a problem for the rest of Mundy’s Mill’s trenchmen, according to Manior. In fact, he sees it as a boon to the playoff prospects of a team that’s on the rise.
“I think his success is rubbing off on the other guys just by them seeing what he does,” said Manior, who is entering his second year at the helm of Mundy’s Mill football. “He’s growing into a leader. Last year he wasn’t too verbal, or he was only verbal when things went bad. But now he speaks up and encourages and makes a real big impact.
“He’s teaching the guys how to take pride in being the best offensively.”
Anderson helped open up generous holes for Tigers’ running back Rodney Smith, who rushed for 1,575 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns last season. Smith averaged almost a first down per carry as Mundy’s Mill came within one game of its first playoff appearance in six years.
This year, the Tigers are looking for more, Manior said. And he doesn’t look for Anderson to allow one award to park his progress — not with all the untapped potential remaining in his game.
“If Darius has a great year this season and next, he can write his own ticket,” Manior said. “I don’t think he’s stopped growing yet. He’s already impressive with his hands and has great feet. I think you’re looking at someone who can play on that D-1 level. Someone who can be an SEC type of guy.”
No doubt, that sounds good to Anderson who said he can point to several things that feed his desire to improve — including “making my parents proud.”
But in his mind, one source of motivation stands above the rest. And it’s one he has in common with his entire team.
“We have a chip on our shoulders,” Anderson said. So this year we’re going to work 100 percent harder to make it to the playoffs and go on from there. That’s where we want to be.”