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Beset by injury, BYU’s Zayne Anderson returns at new position after two frustrating seasons

Zayne Anderson is working out with the cornerbacks, hoping to help the defense wherever he can in his final season at BYU.

Linebacker Zayne Anderson, center, stretches during Brigham Young University football practice in Provo on Friday, March 6, 2020.
Linebacker Zayne Anderson, center, stretches during Brigham Young University football practice in Provo on Friday, March 6, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

PROVO — Some seniors, if they’re honest, would tell you spring football practices can be sort of a drag.

And why wouldn’t it be for a player who has been through the process three to four times already with their role within the team largely established? It’s therefore typical for a senior returning starter to not fully participate, with coaches smartly making moves to keep their senior leaders healthy, knowing full well they’ll be primed to get going come fall practices.

But as for Zayne Anderson, he’s relishing every opportunity to be back out there with his teammates for one final spring practice session.

Surrounded by media at the conclusion of Friday’s practice, the Stansbury High School product was all smiles, stating, “It’s amazing. ... I couldn’t have been here right now if I didn’t get my year back, so I’m here, and I’m happy to be here. ... It really is amazing. The weather’s beautiful, and I’m just so happy to be here.”

Being out on the gridiron hasn’t been easy for Anderson over the past two seasons.

Named a team captain just prior to the 2018 season, Anderson lasted just four games after incurring a season-ending shoulder injury, resulting in a redshirt season. His 2019 season proved even crueler, going down with another injury to his shoulder during the first game against Utah, and then being forced to hang it up after trying to play through it the next week versus Tennessee.

To say the last two seasons have been frustrating, as a result, would be an understatement.

“Mentally I’m in a really good place right now, where after a few injuries you get down on yourself,” Anderson said. “But I’m really confident in my skills and I know what I can do on the field. So I just want to prove that in being healthy.”

Coaches have known for a long time that Anderson can play at a high level, whether it be at safety or at linebacker, and are currently trying him out at a new position for his final year. When the 6-foot-2, 200 pounder goes to position group meetings these days, it’s now with the cornerbacks.

Given the fact Anderson has never played cornerback in his life, the move would seem unwarranted on its face, given his one remaining year of eligibility, although Anderson and BYU coaches would strongly disagree at the notion.

“Athletically he doesn’t lack anything to play the position at a high level,” said BYU cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford. “It’s hard for him a bit now, just because it’s new, but there’s no doubt he can do it. He’s long enough where he can disrupt a lot of routes, he has the speed, the ball skills, and yeah, he has everything you need to become a great cornerback and he’s working hard to get there.”

It’s no secret BYU is working to employ a base 4-2-5 formation this fall, which calls for more bodies in the secondary, with the experience and athleticism of Anderson making him a natural switch from linebacker to defensive back.

“With as much experience as he has, I think it’s a good risk to take,” said BYU head coach Kalani Sitake. “With the amount of injuries (he’s) had to deal with in the past, I think you have to try guys at different places, just so you know that you can.”

Anderson anticipates coaches using him in a variety of roles, utilizing his experience and versatility to the defensive scheme’s advantage.

“As a safety, you know what the corners are doing, but until you’re actually doing it, it’s a little different,” Anderson said. “... It’s a big change, and the coaches just want to see if I can play it, so when the season comes along, and guys go down, I’ve shown coaches the ability to play that position. And it’s going to help me at safety or at nickel, if I go back.”

Anderson isn’t a full participant at practice yet, but feels he’s about two weeks away from full participation in workouts and during practice sessions.

“This is my last go, so I’m taking every opportunity,” Anderson said. “At rehab I’m in there two hours a day with our specialists. ... In the end it’s going to pay off, so I’m excited about that.”