Is there any doubt that the University of Utah's wide-body fullback, Jamal Anderson - a.k.a. Mall, Jam, Carmel - can and will be (should be?) a star someday? After all, he's been hanging out with stars all his life. Surely, something rubbed off.
He's played with Muhammed Ali. Michael Jackson has stopped by the house. So has Arsenio Hall. He's slapboxed with Mike Tyson. He's stayed at Sugar Ray Leonard's mansion. He's visited the homes of Magic Johnson and Richard Pryor. He has sought Jimmy Brown's advice. He's had his hair cut by Byron Scott.We're talking serious name-dropper here.
"That's why my family is never star-struck," says Anderson. "We've seen them all. It doesn't get any bigger than Michael Jackson. We've been to functions with all those guys."
If the gregarious Anderson has his way, he'll become a celeb himself someday, either with his mouth or his legs or both. An aspiring anchorman and/or NFL running back, he is paying and playing for his education at Utah, where his considerable talents and potential so far have been unrealized. Anderson, a junior, will get one more chance to show himself this year when Utah meets Washington State in next week's Copper Bowl.
Anderson had just 55 carries this season, despite averaging nearly six yards per attempt. He finished with a so-so 318 yards and three touchdowns. All of which was a strange way for a team to use (or not to use) its No. 1 recruit.
Last winter the Utes went shopping for a big, hard-running, hard-blocking fullback. They decided Anderson was just the man for the job. He is 6-foot, 240 pounds, with most of the weight located below the waist. He has a 34-inch waist but must buy 40-waist pants to fit his massive thighs. And yet he possesses surprising 4.6 speed.
In two years at Moorpark (Calif.) College, Anderson ran for some 2,300 yards, averaging more than eight yards per carry. He was recruited by Arizona State, Arkansas, Hawaii, Cal, Arizona State, Florida State and Utah. "Go where you're most comfortable," Brown advised him, so he chose Utah.
"He's a big, strong guy who breaks tackles, blocks and runs," says Utah coach Ron McBride. "You haven't seen near what he's capable of. There have been spurts, but he hasn't had the opportunity to really bust loose because of the game situations. We were throwing a lot. We hope to utilize him more next year."
Anderson can barely hide his disappointment, especially when he sees that Hawaii's Travis Sims rushed for 1,500 yards this season. "Those could have all been mine," he says. "They told me (Sims) would be my backup . . . I thought I'd run more than I did (at Utah). I probably should have redshirted."
Probably. Anderson didn't join the Utes until fall camp, and then he arrived overweight, at 247 pounds. He also didn't know the Ute offense.
"I blew several assignments against Nebraska (in the season opener)," he says.
Early in the season Anderson was a spot player, giving way to Henry Lusk in passing situations. Anderson discussed the situation with offensive coordinator Rick Rasnick and McBride, who urged him to learn the offense. He did, and in the meantime he proved to be a good pass receiver. By midseason he was a fulltime player.
Anderson caught 18 passes, including a spectacular one-hander and a leaping grab over two defenders in the end zone. He also proved to be a formidable blocker, as advertised. He leveled a Nebraska linebacker to spring Keith Williams for a long touchdown run. On rare occasions, Anderson showed his own running prowess. Against Air Force he ran through tackler after tackler. Against UTEP he ran right through all-conference linebacker Barron Wortham.
"But I still didn't get many carries," says Anderson. "I had the lowest rushing total of my life. It's the first time in my life I didn't get any (post-season) honors. But I did average six yards per carry. To me, anything under six yards is unacceptable."
Anderson, you've guessed, is not lacking in confidence. During the season, McBride teaches the rudiments of football to a class of women each week. One week he invited Anderson to speak to his class. He used the occasion to teach the women a cheer: "Mall needs the ball!"
"I have vision like a tailback," says Anderson. "I can run over you or run around you."
If Anderson sounds vaguely like a junior Ali, it's no wonder. He spent much of his youth mingling with the boxer or other sports superstars. It was a friendship between Ali and Jamal's father, James, that changed the Anderson's lives forever.
James, who was a reserve policeman in Newark, N.J. at the time, used to take any of his eight children to Ali's Deer Lake, Pa., training camp to watch the champ train for an upcoming fight. They spent the night in a hotel in town and returned daily to watch Ali.
"We became friends," says James. "He was that type of person. He was the most approachable, down-to-earth, huge celebrity that you can imagine. He'd talk to you, he'd play with your children . . . ."
Eventually, they became such good friends that the Andersons stayed in one of the cabins at Ali's training camp. "We ate in the kitchen and my kids played with Ali's children," says James.
Because of the friendship, James was assigned one day to protect Ali during a Newark parade in his honor. During the parade, James rescued Ali from the crush of the crowd. Afterward, Ali asked James to protect him fulltime.
"We were headed that way anyway," says James. "But that cemented it."
James became Ali's head of security. He served as a personal bodyguard and coordinated the other security arrangements. It was no easy task.
"He had his own mind," says James. "If you told him to go through the left door, he'd go through the right. He loved people. One thing he loved to do was to stand at 46th Street and 8th Avenue (in New York) and see what sort of chaos he'd create. He'd wait until he was recognized. The police would have to get us out of there. Ali just stood there in the middle of it. He loved it. He was a people person."
When Ali moved to California, the Andersons followed. It was there that James' reputation began to grow. Eventually, Leonard and Tyson hired him for the same services he rendered to Ali. James collected four world championship rings, and Jamal witnessed some of boxing's greatest fights.
"I saw Ali fight Spinks and Holmes," he says. "And I saw all the Leonard-Hearns fights, and Leonard-Duran II."
In answer the obvious question, he says, "I never wanted to box. I can fight, though. They taught me."
As James' reputation continued to expand, he was lured into the entertainment world. He was a bodyguard/security manager for Donna Summer. He did the same job for the Jacksons' Victory Tour and Magic Johnson's Mid-Summer Night's Dream.
"Jamal was never affected by all that," says James. "The kids were raised around celebrities, and they saw that they were just like everyone else. All their friends liked our house. We had an open house. They'd come over and Sugar Ray would answer the door. We've had a lot of them over. Arsenio spent the night at our house. Richard Pryor's been to our house."
Jamal has vivid memories of his famous acquaintances.
- On Muhammed Ali: "One of my favorites. He was like another father. He'd do magic tricks for us, and we played with his kids."
- On Leonard: "I remember we had a birthday party for my father at our house, and (Leonard) sang happy birthday in front of everyone, which really wasn't like him."
- On Tyson: "He's a nice guy. I liked him. He was young, and so was I. I slapboxed with him once. Just once. He said You're a big kid. I put up mine, he put up his, and we slapboxed. I ducked once and I felt the wind right over my head from his hanbd. My dad talked to (Tyson) recently. He calls my dad out of the blue (from jail). He joked that he's going to come see one of my games."
- On the Jacksons: "All of them want to be where Mike is. It's kind of weird. It's like a competition among them."
- On Michael Jackson: "He was very open with us, but when an adult would come in he was quiet. Around kids he is full of conversation. He comes right down to their level . . . He's different. He speaks when spoken to. He came by our house in a disguise once. It was funny."
For his part, Anderson took up football when he was seven years old. He was so big that he was allowed to play in a league for eight-year-olds, as an offensive guard. A year later he was moved to fullback and began to wear jersey No. 32 - Brown's number. He's stuck with the same position and number ever since.
After six straight years of Pop Warner football, Anderson was suffering from an early case of burnout by the time he reached high school. He sat out of football as a freshman and sophomore while El Camino High's team languished through two losing seasons. Meanwhile, Anderson made mistakes that he's still paying for. He hung out with the wrong crowd, ditched school and watched his grades slide.
Midway through his sophomore year he decided to pursue football again. He spent a year improving his grades to regain his eligibility and showed up for his first high school football practice one week after the season had started. The coach took one look at his girth and said, "What are you, a guard?" "I'm a running back," Anderson replied. The coach was doubtful. During a scrimmage, he told Anderson to run off-tackle, to the right. "He wanted to change my mind; it was a big joke to him, my playing running back," says Anderson. "I ran over the linebacker, then the free safety came up and I ran over him. The coach said OK, now run it to the left. The same thing happened."
In two seasons, Anderson rushed for nearly 2,000 yards, averaging some seven yards per carry, and El Camino won 11 games. Washington offered Anderson a scholarship based on game videotape alone. When the school's recruiters came to El Camino to see his transcripts, however, they were disappointed. Anderson's lapse during his freshman and sophomore years cost him requirements for college admission. The word spread, and other schools that had recruited him - Arizona, Arizona State, BYU - backed off. Anderson went to Moorpark, and two years later he finally landed at a Division 1 school, Utah.
With nearly one complete (and disappointing) season behind him, Anderson says, "I look forward to next year."
Anderson's best days should be ahead of him. He never lifted weights in his life until he came to Utah. He has come this far on natural strength (which is enough to bench press 320 pounds). Next month he plans to begin his first real off-season weight program, which should make him that much better next season. Now all the Utes have to do is give him the ball.