September 19, 2012

Moffat: The ‘lion’ knows his horses


CFL rookie Victor Anderson’s Twitter handle has the word “lion” in it but the truth is he knows a lot more about horses.  The former Louisville 1,000-yard rusher (@lion_vic) has done internships at some of Kentucky’s finest stables.

Heading into his 2nd career start as a pro, knowing he’s the Alouettes’ man for as long as he can hold onto the ball and the job, Anderson will have to prove to be as much workhorse as race horse.

He’s shown he’s got a heart like a lion just surviving the harsh streets of his hometown drug trade that dragged his mom and dad into the depths of a ground zero for trouble.  

“Where I grew you up, you have to see it to know what it’s like,” says Anderson. “It’s like a little box that holds everybody in that world. But I saw opportunity.”

Football was the opportunity to run from a tough neighbourhood and get on the path to something better – the endzone.

Seeking inspiration

While at Louisville, Anderson sought inspiration from a former teammate, Anthony Conner, who taught him about perspective and humility after he had broken his neck while making a tackle and effectively ending his playing career.

Opportunity knocked earlier this season when Brandon Whitaker, now out with a torn ACL, had to miss a game.   Anderson rushed for 100+ yards, his 5.7/carry better than the season average 5.1 of Whitaker.  He scored a touchdown through the air proving he’s no one trick pony, either.

But in the Als’ backfield, all are judged by their blocking assignments. Anderson proved more than willing to mix it up physically with opposing Eskimos.

The live-fire audition gives Head Coach Marc Trestman optimism.

“It’s a very emotional loss. He (Whitaker) has been such a very big part of it. We’ve got “Vic” in the wings and he’s shown he can do it for us.”

“It’s terrible it had to happen this way,” concedes Anderson.  “In my opinion Brandon is the best back in the league.   Running the ball, catching out of the backfield and protecting AC – that’s the most important thing when you have a Hall of Famer, you have to have a guy to protect him. I have to pick up the load.”

For Jim Popp, Anderson is the gift that proves “good things come in small packages”.  Last December, just two days after the Popp family was gathered by the Christmas tree, the GM was out scouting the Belk Bowl down the road a piece in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Victor had a very good game and I’d had my eye on him all season,” Popp reveals.  “The unique thing about it was one of the players I had coached at the Citadel was the running backs/special teams coach at Louisville, Kenny Carter.   

“I bought a program and I’m flipping through it at the game and see his name.  So I called at the end of January and talked to him about Victor.

“He was like ‘man, what a quality guy!’”

“Before he even got to his pro day, Anderson was contemplating signing with us and not even worrying about the NFL,” Popp recalls of Louisville’s first-ever Big East rookie of the year.  “We suggested ‘if you’re apprehensive, go do your Pro Day.’ He made the commitment to us.  He didn’t wait around for the NFL.”

The NFL was within reach.  But Anderson had injury trouble in college, limiting him to 750 yards over the next two years.  Anthony Allen, now of the Baltimore Ravens, had been the man in Louisville before his arrival.  Job-sharing followed with Bilal Powell and Brock Bolden (Jacksonville Jaguars).

“We just stayed humble and hungry,” says the 5’9, 205-pounder who leads the Als in kickoff return yards.

The biggest lesson in humility came in Anderson’s 2011 senior year.  Teammate Anthony Conner broke his neck making a tackle.  He will never play football again.

Later that season, Conner walked into the Cardinals locker room with a neck brace.

“It made me tear up to know he was walking and to know what he’d do if he could be out there playing with us.  I got up and got the team going and the spirit moved through me.” Anderson scored a long TD run vs. Rutgers that game.

“Just to know he would walk again after breaking his neck was a relief.  That’s what touched me, his ability to fight through injury.  He’s still in rehab and doing great.”

Conner’s mantra was “today, not tomorrow.”  Play every game like it could be your last.  That rings true for Anderson, maybe for every football player.
“I lived that way all my life, I had to,” admits Anderson.   “I never knew what was going to be my next move.   I would go out – I may not return that night.   I had to get everything done that day because I might not wake up tomorrow or return home tonight.   That’s just the way I had to live.”

“Anthony and I went around talking to schools and spreading our word about how we grew up and what he’s gone through after he broke his neck.  If something’s taken away from you there is always more opportunity.”

Louisville opened an opportunity to tour some of Kentucky’s finest stables in his off seasons.

“I worked with the mares and the foals, so it was interesting to be around the once great racehorses that were being bred, to the top studs in the industry.  I got to go up to Claiborne Farm and that’s where Secretariat was buried.  It’s a beautiful place.”

Victor laughs at my suggestion he may be a thoroughbred.

“Brandon and all the stable of backs here, I guess you could say that.  I love horses.  My grandmother grew up loving horses and I can remember going to the horse track with her.”

“I look to get a farm when I’m done with football. Get me some horses.”

Spoken like a future GM.