LOGAN — Six months into his new job, Blake Anderson has yet to win a football game for the Aggies. But that doesn’t mean Utah State’s new head football coach hasn’t been winning at life.

Or on the golf course.

“That wooden football over there is the winning trophy,” Anderson points out while sitting behind the desk in his office at the Jim & Carol Laub Athletics-Academics Complex. “It was chilly, but good. We had a pretty good squad and brought back a pat on the back and a wooden football.”

The tournament Anderson and three hand-selected teammates won in late May is an annual event held at Pebble Beach Golf Links in California. Perennially rated the top public course in the country, Pebble Beach plays hosts to about 30 head coaches and their friends for the three-day tourney along the Pacific Coast.

“It was a great just to hang out and be around some of those guys,” Anderson said. “No matter how crazy the rest of the year is, we know that for at least three days, we’re going to get loose, and just get away and enjoy playing golf and talking smack to each other.

“And I went head-to-head with Wellsie everyday,” Anderson added with a grin. “Beat the mess out of him. It was a good three days.”

“Wellsie” would be Matt Wells, the man who just happened to occupy the very same office space that Anderson is in now when he was the head coach of the Aggies from 2013-18. Now the head coach at Texas Tech, Wells played at Utah State before joining the coaching staff of former Aggie Charlie Weatherbie at Navy in 1997.

Around that same time, Anderson was an assistant at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas, and both he and Wells were hired to work a summer camp hosted by Dallas Cowboys legends Emmitt Smith and Bill Bates. Anderson says he and Wells “just hit it off,” and they ended up working several other camps through the years, eventually developing a strong friendship that even endured a couple of head-coach-to-head-coach clashes while Wells was at USU and Anderson was at Arkansas State.

“Matt’s a big reason I came out here, to be honest with you,” Anderson declared. “Just because of how much he loved the place, and Jen talked about it, too. Matt’s wife, Jen, and my wife, Wendy, were good friends. So, it made it intriguing to me, and then obviously, we played out here (in 2016).”

Anderson is also friends with West Virginia head coach Neal Brown, who was hired as the coach at Troy University by current USU athletic director John Hartwell. Hartwell’s connections to Brown and Wells certainly paid off for Anderson when the Aggies were searching for a new head coach to replace Gary Andersen last winter.

“All of the dominoes just kind of lined up and came at a really good time for me personally,” Anderson noted. “And it’s really exceeded every expectation I had of being out here. I’ve absolutely loved it.

“I’ve been pretty blessed things worked out the way that they did.”

‘A fresh start’

When he was hired by Utah State in December 2020, Anderson was seeking something more than just jumping up another rung on the coaching ladder after a successful run at Arkansas State that included 51 wins in seven seasons.

The native of Hubbard, Texas, was open about his desire to make a “fresh start” in life after Wendy died in August 2019 following a two-year battle with breast cancer. The memories in Jonesboro of his wife of 27 years just became just too difficult to endure, and in a unique move, ASU ended up lowering Anderson’s buyout from $800,000 to just $150,000 to make it easier for their beloved coach to secure an opportunity somewhere else.

And that place ended up being Utah State University.

“I think it’s been really good for me,” Anderson proclaimed. “It’s been great, personally. The change of pace that I was hoping it would be.

“I still have bad days like anybody, but it’s about starting to create new memories, and just starting to create good, positive thoughts and relationships. That’s really what I was looking for.”

At the time of his move across the country, however, Anderson had already started to develop a very important new relationship. Brittany King attended the same Baptist church as Anderson in Jonesboro, and even while expressing her condolences over Wendy’s death, Brittany was also on the verge of losing her mother. She died 12 days after Wendy, and afterward, Brittany and Blake became friends as they tried to help each other deal with their respective losses.

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That relationship grew in importance even more when Anderson’s father died in May 2020 and was buried in the same cemetery in Hubbard as Wendy.

“Wendy had breast cancer that spread through her lungs, so she was dealing with lungs that weren’t functioning right, in addition to brain tumors,” Anderson explained. “My dad had lung disease basically from years of smoking, and both of them ended up going on oxygen at about the same time, which was hard. Watching both of them struggle to breathe … it was a lot.”

COVID-19 calamities

Fast forward a little over three months after Scott Anderson died, and his son is riding high after one of the biggest wins of his career, a 35-31 victory at Kansas State on Sept. 12. But the Red Wolves’ celebration was short-lived as a few days later, positive COVID-19 tests led to the cancellation of ASU’s next two games.

Arkansas State wide receiver Jonathan Adams Jr., left, catches a pass under pressure from Kansas State defensive back AJ Parker (12) to score the winning touchdown Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Manhattan, Kansas. A few days after the big win, COVID-19 positive test results sidelined the program for two weeks. Coach Blake Anderson was among those hit hard by the virus. | Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

On Sept. 28, Anderson revealed that he battled COVID-19 for 10 days following his team’s return from Manhattan, Kansas.

“I was as sick as I’ve ever been in my adult life, to be truthful,” Anderson stated. “Fortunately, I never had to go on oxygen or go to the ER, but I had a high fever, couldn’t get out of bed and lost a lot of weight. I got all the way down to 173, and I’m typically in the 190s.

“And it took me a while to get back to normal activity. It was about a month and a half of feeling really fatigued and tired and short of breath.”

Anderson believes that he probably contracted COVID-19 from the combination of someone in the ASU traveling party having a false negative test and the team being stuck together on buses for an extended period of time due to a delayed flight. Regardless, the coronavirus hit the Arkansas State program hard, and while everyone survived, “it pretty much took over the season,” Anderson noted.

“I can’t wait to be in front of a college crowd again. I really hope people show up in big numbers and enjoy it and have a blast. Considering what we’ve been through, I’m expecting the best fall ever. I think we’ll probably appreciate it more than we ever have.” — Blake Anderson

“It took what I thought was a really, really good team that had just won at Kansas State, and it just decimated us and we never really got it back,” Anderson said of what ended up being a 4-7 season for the Red Wolves.

Blake and Wendy Anderson had three children together, and it’s hard to imagine how frightening it was for Coleton, 26, Callie, 23, and Cason, 20, to see their father battle COVID-19 just 13 months after losing their mother to cancer.

But Anderson eventually got better after being “knocked down,” and the 52-year-old said he’s suffered no long-term effects of the disease. However, he’s quick to note that two members of his current coaching staff lost loved ones to COVID-19, as well as several players from his teams at both Arkansas State and Utah State.

“So, for a lot of people, it’s way more than being fatigued and not be able to run and catch a ball liked you used to,” Anderson soberly added.

Better times

And yet, positive changes have been coming to collegiate athletics, such as recruits making in-person visits to campuses again. And in mid-June, Utah State announced it would be hosting 100% capacity crowds at Maverik Stadium this fall, meaning that there should be plenty of fans in the stands when Anderson runs out onto Merlin Olsen Field for the first time as USU’s head coach when the Aggies host North Dakota for their first home game on Sept. 10.

“I can’t wait to be in front of a college crowd again,” said Anderson, who played quarterback for two years at Baylor before a shoulder injury led to him transferring to Sam Houston State and playing wide receiver the rest of his college career. “I really hope people show up in big numbers and enjoy it and have a blast. Considering what we’ve been through, I’m expecting the best fall ever. I think we’ll probably appreciate it more than we ever have.

“And I think Aggie fans are going to love watching the group that we’re going to put out there. They’ll love the system that we run, and the kids have proven that they’ll play hard and they’re fun to watch.”

Blake Anderson coaches the USU football team during a spring football scrimmage at Maverik Stadium in April 2021. | USU Athletic Media Relations

Anderson, who secured the services of 13 transfers, including three from Arkansas State, said he’s very pleased with how things went during spring football in March and April, and that “we had 15 really good practices.”

“Guys played hard and learned a lot,” Anderson continued. “We figured out where some holes are that we need to work on, but mainly we just got really good, consistent daily work. There wasn’t that day when you went out there and they didn’t want to practice or the effort was awful. It was consistent. Good energy and good effort every day, and we got better this spring.”

And so did Anderson’s life.

Although he said he had been planning to wait “a little longer,” after praying and talking to his children, Anderson proposed to Brittany in January.

Wedding bells

“She came out, and I proposed right here in Logan, America — a place she had never been to before — and she said, ‘Yes,’” Anderson notes with a grin. “The original plan was for us to get married in May, kind of after spring ball and when I had a little break. But my schedule started getting loaded up with more and more stuff, and recruiting started looking crazier and crazier. So, we said, ‘What are we waiting on?’ And we moved it up and got married in March.”

I feel like God’s just orchestrated every bit of it. I didn’t expect to meet anybody — I didn’t really know if I would be with anybody again — he just kind of put us in each other’s paths, it worked out and she came with two little ones.” — Blake Anderson

Blake and Brittany were married on March 12 in Brittany’s hometown of Pocahontas, Arkansas. Anderson said it was a small ceremony for family only on a Friday, and by Sunday night, he was on a plane headed back to Utah for the start of spring football the following Monday morning.

But Anderson’s not only a new husband. He’s also a new father after adopting Brittany’s two girls, Collins, 10, and Ellison, 5.

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“So, my life has gotten a lot more fingernail polish and hair barrettes and stuff like that around the house these days,” Anderson said about having young children at home again, while his older children are living in Arkansas and Texas.

“It keeps you young. Or makes you old, I don’t know which. The jury’s still out on that,” he added with a big smile. “But it’s good. I feel like God’s just orchestrated every bit of it. I didn’t expect to meet anybody — I didn’t really know if I would be with anybody again — he just kind of put us in each other’s paths, it worked out and she came with two little ones.

“It’s all been completely unexpected, but a blessing at the same time.”

Jeff Hunter is a contributor for the Deseret News.

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