“Dude, we’re going to the Super Bowl …”
That was the direct message that Sua Opeta sent Zayne Anderson the night of Jan. 29 after the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs punched their tickets to this year’s Super Bowl.
“It couldn’t have worked out for two greater young men. They’re just outstanding guys, man. People don’t realize that apart from being great players, they’re outstanding people.” — former Stanbury High coach Clint Christiansen of Sua Opeta and Zayne Anderson
Just less than a decade ago, Anderson and Opeta were high school classmates of mine just a half hour outside of Salt Lake City at Stansbury High. They were teammates on the football team and two of the best athletes the high school had ever seen, both with Division I offers.
I got to cover them both extensively during that time, and even though playing football at the next level was not out of reach for either player, who could have dreamt that some day they’d meet on opposite teams in a Super Bowl.
Fast forward to the present.
Both Anderson and Opeta are indeed still playing football, and this week will take part on the biggest stage in the sport. Anderson, of the Kansas City Chiefs, and Opeta, of the Philadelphia Eagles, will be on opposite sidelines at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, in Sunday’s Super Bowl as their respective teams battle to take home the Lombardi Trophy.
Former Stansbury High football coach Clint Christiansen had the opportunity to coach both Anderson and Opeta during their Stansbury years, and is thrilled to see them playing at the highest level and achieving their NFL dreams.
“It couldn’t have worked out for two greater young men,” said Christiansen. “They’re just outstanding guys, man. People don’t realize that apart from being great players, they’re outstanding people.”
Christiansen coached a lot of great players during his years at Provo and Stansbury high schools, but gave some insight as to what set the two former Stallions apart from other great athletes he has coached.
“Over the years I’ve seen kids that were so talented that they could do good things without working hard,” said Christiansen. “But the ones that get to the next level are the ones that you don’t have to push to get better. You always knew you were getting everything they had. They pushed themselves.”
Anderson, a safety and running back for the Stallions, was an agile, disciplined ballhawk with a knack for making open-field tackles. On offense, he was a shifty wingback in a triple-option, run-heavy attack. He was also a state champion sprinter on the track.
A lifelong Utes fan, Anderson paved his own way as a BYU Cougar under Bronco Mendenhall and Kalani Sitake, where he enjoyed a great career and a stellar pro day, setting the stage to play at the next level.
“Growing up in Stansbury I felt like I was always a good player,” said Anderson. “When I got to junior high and everybody else started catching up size-wise, I really learned to work hard. I learned to develop a craft and it just went from there.”
Anderson, now a second year defensive back for the Kansas City Chiefs, has been to the AFC championship game under Andy Reid both seasons, and has made seven appearances during his first two years. Anderson signed as an undrafted free agent in 2021 and had stints between the active roster and the practice squad during that time.
“It’s almost like a repeat,” said Anderson. “You get humbled your first year wherever you’re at — high school, college, the NFL — you’re just not the best anymore. You come in and put your head down and grind and hope for an opportunity, and when it comes, you seize it.”
During his first two years with the Chiefs — a team chock full of superstars on both sides of the ball — he has had the chance to learn from the best, while also getting opportunities to play meaningful football.
“You pick up on things from everyone,” Anderson said, singling out one of the best tight ends in NFL history — Travis Kelce. “You see how dominant he’s been and I get to go up against him everyday, whether I’m guarding him on scout team or whatever it is. Being able to compete with guys like that at this level. … I think we’ve had arguably one of the best offenses over the last few years, and just being able to go against that competition has really built my confidence.”
Opeta was a beast on both sides of the line for the Stallions before becoming a two-time All-America offensive lineman at Weber State under Jay Hill. He is now in his fourth season in the NFL, all with the Eagles.
The two-time Big Sky Conference champion signed with Philadelphia as an undrafted free agent in 2019 despite a solid performance at the NFL combine that saw him put up an outstanding 39 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, the most by any player in 2019. Opeta has played in 25 games and has started four times over four seasons for the NFC champs. He is heading into a contract year in 2023.
“I was pretty in the moment when I was playing in high school,” said Opeta. “The fact that I’m here right now thinking back to how my mindset was … I never even dreamed of this. I feel like when I first started playing football I was kind of an awkward player. To be able to play with better technique was very important, and with some good coaching over the years, I was able to improve.”
Opeta has been able to be part of the one of the most elite offensive lines in the NFL during the last few seasons, playing with the likes of Pro Bowl-caliber players like Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson, among others. He doesn’t take for granted the chance that he has received.
“It’s incredible,” said Opeta. “When I first got into the league I was a little starstruck. But now, they’ve become your teammates and you sometimes forget that these guys are superstars. It’s always great to know you’re working with the best in the world. You make a good play in practice and it gives you confidence that you can be a great player someday.”
Like Anderson, Opeta singles out a few guys as some of his biggest mentors.
“We talk about one meeting at a time, one practice at a time, because it’s worked for us all year. I’m trying not to get ahead of myself so that when that moment does come I can just take it all in right there and enjoy it.” — Philadelphia Eagles lineman Sua Opeta
“I think an obvious answer would be our offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, but also Isaac Seumalo. He really took me under his wing when I first came into the league. He’s somebody that’s been like a big brother to me. He’s showed me how to play certain techniques, how to assess pass blocking, and tons of little things that I never thought about as a rookie. It’s really helped me improve my game a ton.”
When all is said and done, only one of these former high school teammates will walk away as a Super Bowl champion, but both guys have imagined how that moment could be.
“I remember last year when we played the Bengals and came up short (in the AFC championship game),” said Anderson. “This year I feel fortunate and blessed to be a part of something so special. When an opportunity like this comes knocking you take it, and hopefully we do that on Sunday.”
“We talk about one meeting at a time, one practice at a time, because it’s worked for us all year,” said Opeta. “I’m trying not to get ahead of myself so that when that moment does come I can just take it all in right there and enjoy it.”
Whichever of the two emerges a Super Bowl champion, an entire Utah community will take pride and be lucky to call these great men their own.