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BYU football: determination took Zayne Anderson from small town football to Division I

Linebacker Zayne Anderson poses for a photo at BYU's Indoor Practice Facility in Provo on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018.
Linebacker Zayne Anderson poses for a photo at BYU's Indoor Practice Facility in Provo on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018.

Coming from the small town of Stansbury Park, Utah, Zayne Anderson dreamed of one day playing for a Division I football team. But when you come from a town where the population is 5,145, it may be hard to get noticed – or so people told him.

But someone with the determination of Anderson didn’t need to change surroundings to achieve his goal. Starting young and with a competitive spirit, Anderson worked hard for his spot on the local little league football team. Unfortunately, he was often benched because he played behind the coach’s son.

“People who were born and raised there and whose parents were born and raised there got more playing time or attention,” said his mother, Angie. “Because of that, he knew he had to work a little extra.”

Anderson remembers finally getting the chance to showcase his talents when the coach’s son got injured and Anderson stepped in at the running back spot. He went out and scored five touchdowns.

Now a story about a little league team may not seem to have as much weight as an inspiring story about a Division I team, but playing at a young age fueled the love Anderson has for football. That was his start. He had to learn that things would not be handed to him in life, and he had to work hard to get what he wanted.

Once in high school, Anderson was a dual-sport athlete excelling at both football and track. Although he used track to stay in shape for football, Anderson excelled at both through that same work ethic. Anderson’s father recalls one incident after his son took second in state his junior year.

“I was walking off the track with him and I remember saying, ‘That’s awesome Zayne; not many kids can say that they took second in state,’” Robert said. “He looked at me and he said, ‘No, it’s not awesome, dad. I should’ve done better. I should’ve taken first. It won’t happen next year.’ And then next year he went to the state championship, and he took first in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m and the sprint medley.”

Despite getting multiple track scholarship offers, football has always been Anderson’s true love. But he wasn’t always committed to playing for BYU. At the end of his sophomore year, Utah State had eyes on Anderson as a potential football commit. Going into his junior year, Anderson said that they really pushed him to commit, so he did.

Anderson was excited about his commitment to play for Utah State. He had achieved his dream of playing for a Division I football program. Then during his junior spring track season, Anderson received a message from BYU asking him to come in and meet with then-head coach Bronco Mendenhall. He left with an offer to play for the Cougars, which shook his excitement about Utah State.

The decision to either switch to BYU or stay with Utah State wasn’t an easy one. Anderson took his time and thought about the two schools but ultimately came to the decision a year later in December that he was going to play for BYU.

“I had kind of known that I should go to BYU because it would just be a better fit for me and for my future in and out of football,” Anderson shared. “So, I decommitted from Utah State and committed to BYU in December, and I came down here and have been here ever since.”

BYU football draws fans out from all over the world, and Anderson was drawn to it as well.

“BYU has a really good legacy from past football,” Anderson said. “And then I just thought that I would benefit throughout my life from outside of football just by coming here.”

Coming from Stansbury Park, Anderson completely changed his scene, moving to Provo where he now plays in front of tens of thousands of fans every game.

“It’s pretty surreal,” Anderson said. “There’s so much energy out there; there’s really nothing like it.”

His family has loved being able to watch Anderson play in LaVell Edwards Stadium. Angie says that sometimes she still can’t believe she is watching her own son play on that field in front of so many people.

Anderson saw time on special teams during his first two seasons, including his freshman year that abruptly ended due to an injury. Anderson stepped into the rotation his junior year, totaling 61 tackles, including 41 solo stops, three forced fumbles and two interceptions.

Anderson looked to be the frontrunner for the starting safety spot going into 2018, but the coaching staff was eyeing a larger role for the senior as a linebacker.

“About three weeks before spring ball started, my coach brought me in and asked me if I wanted to switch,” Anderson said. “Basically he said, ‘We need more speed throughout the field. You can fill that void. For the future of our team, I think it’s a good move.’”

Assistant head coach Ed Lamb is confident in the switch Anderson has made.

“Zayne brings a lot of toughness,” Lamb stated. “That’s what allows us to take him from a safety position to a linebacker position, a position with more contact. It takes a lot of self-sacrifice to change positions. He’s handled it remarkably, and I have super high hopes for him.”

The dedication and work ethic that Anderson holds has helped him stay on track with his position switch. Although the two positions aren’t too different, Anderson still had to focus on his training.

“He’s done a great job at gaining weight in the offseason; gaining muscle mass that was critical,” Lamb said. “He obviously brings a lot of speed. He might be the fastest player on our football team; definitely one of the fastest linebackers in America.”

Anderson loves to win, and he has dedicated himself to becoming a stronger football player so he can help his team in any way possible. His willingness to take criticism and apply it does not go unnoticed by his coaches.

“On a personal level, I love coaching him,” Lamb shared. “Everything I ask him to do, he takes to heart and considers it, and he has enough courage to discuss things back and forth. He accomplishes goals that I give him.”

Throughout his success at BYU and going into his final year, Anderson has kept his grandfather, Clair, in mind. Clair was a lifelong BYU fan, but he passed away a year before Anderson committed to BYU. Anderson values the relationship he had with his grandfather, and he continues to be inspired by what his grandfather taught him.

“He was just a really hard worker. He worked his whole life, and he really taught me how to work at a young age,” said Anderson. “It shows through my dad and my grandpa that you can achieve anything that you want if you work for it. That’s been my foundation.”