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Injuries not stopping BYU safety Zayne Anderson from pursuing his dream of playing pro football

Finally healthy, sixth-year BYU senior Zayne Anderson had a solid final season in Provo and now hopes his speed and versatility lands him a spot in this week’s NFL draft

BYU linebacker Zayne Anderson talks to a camera after BYU’s opening football practice at the indoor facility in Provo on Wednesday, July 31, 2019. Anderson just completed his sixth season at BYU, due to injuries, and hopes to be taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, which begins April 29, 2021, in Cleveland, Ohio.
BYU linebacker Zayne Anderson talks to a camera after BYU’s opening football practice at the indoor facility in Provo on Wednesday, July 31, 2019. Anderson just completed his sixth season at BYU, due to injuries, and hopes to be taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, which begins Thursday in Cleveland, Ohio.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Having graduated from BYU without having married, Cougars football star Zayne Anderson says he is “used to third-wheeling at a lot of things.”

He is also accustomed to showing off his wheels as one of the fastest players on the team. Anderson hopes that speed serves him well when the NFL draft is held later this week in Cleveland, Ohio.

The sixth-year senior from Stansbury Park in Tooele County is one of more than a dozen former Cougars who will be watching the draft closely — especially the last few rounds and the free agent feeding-frenzy that occurs Saturday night after Mr. Irrelevant is picked — in hopes of hearing his name called, or his telephone ring.

Quarterback Zach Wilson and offensive lineman Brady Christensen are the only Cougars who could be considered locks to be drafted. Everyone else, like Anderson, will be on “pins and needles” on Saturday, he said.

“For me, it is up in the air,” Anderson said. “Honestly, teams will tell you things, but you never know. You can’t be sure.”

Anderson, who measured at 6-foot-2 and 206 pounds at BYU’s pro day, showed off his athleticism by posting a 4.43 time in the 40-yard dash, a 4.22 time in the shuttle and a 6.78 time in the 3-cone drill.

He said a lot of teams he has talked to have him as a Day 3 guy — going in rounds 4-7 on Saturday — but he’s taking nothing for granted.

“I’m (mentally) preparing myself to be a free agent,” he said. “I just want that shot.”

Rather than head to Texas, Arizona or California for intense training when the season ended, Anderson stayed local and worked out with Dave Stroshine at Stroformance in Pleasant Grove. That’s because until recently, he was working for a friend’s startup solar company.

“I just put in my two week’s notice,” he said last week. “I am just locking in with my training and doing rehab every day now.”

A few years ago, Anderson looked like a probable NFL draft pick, because he combined good size with versatility, having played both linebacker and safety for the Cougars. But a shoulder injury and a failed surgery derailed a once-promising career, and he missed several seasons in order to recover.

Last season, he appeared in 11 games and made 41 tackles and had a couple pass breakups.

He said it was important at pro day to show scouts and NFL executives that he’s completely recovered. That and the dozen or so interviews he’s had with teams also gave him the chance to explain why “multiple surgeries” on paper really just means that one operation didn’t take and he had to repeat it.

“On paper, it looks bad,” he said. “But a lot of teams tell me they are not concerned anymore.”

He called pro day “the biggest job interview of my life,” and believes he killed it.

“I was a little disappointed because I wanted to run a little faster in the 40,” he said. “I had been clocking in at the high 4.3s with Stroshine, but ended up with a 4.43, I think was my official (time).”

Having played flash linebacker, nickel and strong and free safety at BYU, Anderson believes he can play a lot of different positions in the NFL, if given the chance.

Of course, his speciality was special teams, especially as a gunner on punts. He downed several inside the 5-yard-line, much to the joy of punters Jonny Linehan and Ryan Rehkow.

Linehan gave Anderson props for that skill on Twitter recently, saying the speedster “is an absolute sleeper in the NFL Draft this year.” Linehan said Anderson reminds him of former BYU safety Daniel Sorensen, now with the Kansas City Chiefs.

“A great safety and ELITE on special teams,” Linehan wrote.

Anderson’’s time of 4.43 in the 40 would have been the fourth-fastest time for safeties at last year’s NFL combine. Anderson finished his BYU career with 162 tackles and three interceptions.

He called it a positive experience, even if he didn’t find a wife in six years in Provo.

“I was able to meet a lot of great, lifelong friends, and people I call my brothers along the way,” he said. “I was lucky to be coached by some great coaches. Overall, the BYU experience really helped me grow as a person. I look back and am very grateful that I went there.”

Anderson said the roller coaster of emotions and season-ending injuries “made me the person I am today. It made me grateful, and you have to have gratitude towards the game of football, and ultimately I just want to play this game for as long as I possibly can, and that’s where the dream starts to come through with the NFL. BYU put me in a good spot.”