Jamal Anderson has turned into one of the biggest football names to come from Utah in a long time.
And despite the fact that Anderson grew up with NFL and Hollywood celebrities as friends, and despite the fact that he spent only a couple years at Utah and was the Utes' go-to guy for only his senior season, he keeps close contact with U. of U. coach Ron McBride and the program."He's pretty consistent about that," said McBride. "I talk to him quite a bit."
McBride may have been the mentor and Anderson the young athlete, but in a sort of role reversal, it is Anderson who helps McBride's mental outlook. "Jamal's always been there for me," McBride said. "He always calls, especially when you lose a game or there's some problems. He knows if things go bad for you, he calls and say, 'Hey, man, I understand what's going on,' and just kind of lifts your spirits.
"He always has something positive to say. Where everyone else can be negative, he's always positive."
Anderson comes back to McBride's summer camp and really pitches in. "He'll spend two or three days working with the kids on his own without me asking him to do it. Anything that you want, he's always there for you. He's just a great human being that way," McBride said.
McBride sometimes consoled Anderson early in his NFL career. "Especially when he first went into the league (1994), he would call and talk about the fact he wasn't getting to play as much or was in a system where they don't get the ball as much or different problems he might have," said McBride.
The coach teases Anderson about not being married, "but we don't talk about his personal life."
Anderson grew up the son of a New Jersey policeman who became bodyguard to Muhammad Ali first and then to a long line of celebrities, moving his family of seven kids to Woodland Hills, Calif., to start a protection business that included the Jacksons, Mike Tyson, Richard Pryor, Boyz II Men and many others. Jim Brown and Eric Dickerson were family friends who helped tutor Jamal.
"That was never a big thing to him," said McBride. "We talked about that in recruiting him, about different people he'd know, but that was never a big deal. Jamal is Jamal. He's always been pretty much the same guy. Very smart guy."
Anderson spent two years at junior college and came to Utah to become his own person. He spent his junior year blocking for others as the fullback. McBride says Anderson was a bit out of shape as a junior. "His senior year, he was in great physical condition. He knew exactly what he had to do, and he was the primary guy."
Anderson doesn't hold many Ute records, but he had five 100-plus yard games as a senior.
"It all came together about halfway through the season," Anderson told Lee Benson of the Deseret News in 1994, prior to Utah playing Southern Cal in the Freedom Bowl.
"We knew and he knew that they didn't know what they really had at Utah," his father said to Benson then. "Nobody said anything. That's not our way, to say, 'give our boy the ball.' We're just happy they finally decided to take a look at him."
McBride is as proud as a papa of Anderson, though he rarely gets the chance to watch NFL games because he's not home much on Sundays, which are spent in meetings during the season and recruiting or planning recruiting until February. He saw the first half of the playoff between Minnesota and Atlanta but had to listen to the second half on the radio driving to the airport. McBride says he will be in front of the TV set today.
"I'm very proud of him. I feel very good for him. I'm happy that he has this opportunity," McBride said. "He's certainly deserving, and it makes you feel good to sit there and watch him have the success he's having."