Two young boys grew up on the same street in Daphne, Alabama, just three or four houses apart. They would toss a football in the yard until one of their mothers ended the fun. A friendship was born and dreams of one day being college football stars also began to form.
What Ryan Anderson and T.J. Yeldon did not know was that, as teammates, a high school state championship and collegiate national championship were in their near future.
“They always played football in the yard,” said Ryan’s mother, Kim Anderson. “[Ryan] was like, ‘Mom I’m going to play for the Oklahoma Sooners when I get big,’ and he was like, ‘TJ, who are you playing for?’ and T.J. would say, ‘I’m playing for the Auburn Tigers.’ They just went on and on. They already knew what they wanted to do when they were young kids.”
Yeldon and Ryan formed what Kim called, “a bond that nobody can break.” Yeldon became one of the fastest running backs in the state and Ryan became a force on the defensive line. The childhood friends who were once running around in the yard quickly became high school standouts and were recruited by schools from all over the nation.
Their junior year was the pinnacle of Daphne football. Anderson helped lead the defense with his cousin, Torren McGaster, who now starts for the Vanderbilt Commodores at corner, while Yeldon amassed 1,616 all-purpose yards and 23 touchdowns. Anderson’s 14.5 sacks and 75 tackles helped the Trojans have one of the toughest high school defenses in the state. The team went undefeated, 15-0, and beat Hoover High School, 7-6, for the state title.
“You know what, I always knew,” Kim said. “Even when those guys were playing little league football, they were all so talented. They were all so determined. I mean, the stuff they did at 8, 9 and 10-years old was amazing, and I told them one day, ‘When y’all get to high school, y’all are going to win state championship.'”
The team would come back with many of the same players the following season and obtained a 10-1 record, only to lose in the playoffs to eventual state champion Prattville, 13-3.
Former Daphne coach Glenn Vickery said Ryan and Yeldon stood out as the leaders.
“Ryan was a vocal leader, and he backed it up; T.J. was a silent leader, who backed it up,” Vickey said. “When the lights came on, I don’t think I saw T.J. get knocked backwards until he was a sophomore in college. Team-wise, Ryan sort of set the tone for even the entire team. When he turned it up to 110 percent, it helped us because everyone responded to that.”
After a great relationship at Daphne, Yeldon and Ryan decided to stick together and committed to The University of Alabama. Both were highly regarded prospects, ranked four stars by ESPN.com. The dream was finally becoming reality.
Then, it changed. Yeldon became an every-game player and Ryan was sidelined with a redshirt. The two had played together ever since pop-warner, but now Ryan could only watch his best friend become an instant impact for the 2012 national championship team.
“My first year I wanted to leave,” Ryan said. “I called my mom every day talking about it. She told me, ‘You’re not going to do that. God sent you there for a reason, and that’s the reason that you’re there and you’ll see before long.’ She was right.”
Ryan became frustrated, though. He wanted to play with Yeldon. That was the dream.
“It was very hard for him because everything they did, they did together. They played together. They played great together. T.J played good offense, Ryan played good defense. It’s been like that forever,” Kim said. “I told him God had a plan for him, he just had to be patient.”
Just a few nights before the 2013 national championship game, Ryan missed curfew and coach Nick Saban sent him home. He would have to watch his best friend score a touchdown against Notre Dame on a TV screen.
“I think that was the big turning point for Ryan, that hey you’ve got to do it this way or you are not going to be around,” Vickery said. “I think it’s been a huge impact on turning him around into the player that he is today.”
Ryan listened to his mother and stuck with it, and as he said, “She was right.” He got some playing time in 2013 and then really started to put some stats on the paper in 2014. He recorded 24 tackles and two sacks, which gave Saban more reason to play him in 2015.
Last year, Ryan was busy on the field and tallied 37 tackles, 11.5 of which were for a loss. He also had six sacks and forced two fumbles.
“That next year , I just stopped questioning everything,” Ryan said. “I just said I’m going to stop pointing fingers and I’m just going to show up to work every day, and that’s been working for me.”
For the first time, Ryan is starting each game for the Crimson Tide in 2016. The redshirt senior is making an impact, too. He leads the team that ranks second in the nation only to Michigan in tackles for loss at 12.5. Ryan has 35 tackles and 5.5 sacks from his position at outside linebacker and was just named SEC Defensive Player of the Week after six tackles, a sack and a pass deflected against LSU.
“Ryan has always been a really good player for us,” Saban said. “His leadership, his pass-rush ability, his ability to run. He’s just a very, very good all-around football player that has done a fantastic job for us.”
Ryan does not regret his decision to stay at Alabama because now he is living out his dream, only not as a Sooner.
Source:: The Crimson White Sports