Football captain Nick Anderson driven by faith, heart

Mark Keplinger, Sports Editor

nick Anderson
Nick Anderson (center), celebrates a victory over the Massachusetts Minutemen. (Courtesy of Parker Waters)

One of the major reasons Tulane football’s defense has been so good this year is because of linebacker and team captain Nick Anderson. His exploits on the field show him to be a complete player who never gives up on a play. However, off the field, Anderson is driven by a strong faith in God, academic success and adversity that helped shape who he is today.

Growing up in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Anderson started playing football at six years old after being introduced to the sport by his uncles and cousins. “I was kind of a bigger kid growing up so I started off on the offensive line and defensive line. And then once I hit my growth spurt, I got moved to running back … then got moved to linebacker in middle school and high school,” Anderson said.

His mother instilled the importance of academics in him from a young age and made it clear that Anderson could only play football if he got straight As in all his classes. His freshman year of high school, Anderson made an 87 in a Spanish class. After asking the teacher for extra credit, his grade increased to a 90. However, his mom went back to the school and asked the teacher to change the grade back down to an 87.

“She goes to me, she was like, ‘you never ask anybody for anything. You know, that’s what you earned. So that’s what you’re gonna get.’ And she took me out of football that semester. And at the time, I was devastated … But it was definitely a character development time. It showed me how important academics is, which helped me get into a great institution like Tulane and also showed me the importance of working hard,” Anderson said. The lesson paid off as he graduated second in his high school class.

Despite having several offers from Football Championship Subdivision schools and Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Anderson decided to attend Jones County Junior College to try and get into a division one Football Bowl Subdivision program. At Jones County, he played with future teammate Duece Watts as well as Stetson Bennett — who eventually led the Georgia Bulldogs to a national championship as quarterback. The Bobcats won the Mississippi Bowl that season against Eastern Arizona.

Despite offers from South Alabama and Ole Miss, Anderson chose to come to Tulane, citing its family atmosphere and size, saying that he felt more valued by Tulane than by Ole Miss. His first season with the Green Wave in 2019, Tulane won the Armed Forces Bowl. However, Anderson felt that he never took advantage of his opportunities as a role and special teams player. “I feel like you know, I got to Tulane and got sidetracked and wanted to go out and have fun and wasn’t really focused my first year. So I definitely felt that on the depth chart,” the linebacker said.

Anderson really broke out in the 2020 season as the COVID-19 pandemic allowed him to reevaluate himself and get to work with few distractions. He finished that year as the team’s second leading tackler with 88 and also had 3.5 sacks.

Standing 5 foot, 11 inches and weighing 230 pounds, Anderson is quick enough to cover the whole field and has great lateral speed. He can drop back into coverage, tackle well and never gives up on a play. He plays with good technique and can force fumbles with either a punch or a well timed hit. His field vision and play recognition are incredible as he is always well positioned to make a play, especially on read option concepts.

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Anderson (1) has won Conference player of the week twice this year. (Courtesy of Parker Waters)

Tulane’s 2021 season was a tough one. Immediately after fall camp ended, the players were told to pack a bag for the weekend as they would evacuate ahead of Hurricane Ida to Birmingham, Alabama. If that wasn’t enough, Anderson received more bad news. 

“I get a call from home that my little sister and my mom had been in a bad car accident and that my little sister is gonna have to go into a medically induced coma and have facial reconstruction surgery. So that was tough in itself because it’s like, okay, I’m in Birmingham, I can’t go home, I can’t get to my family and we’re stranded here. We don’t know when we’re going back to New Orleans. So it was just tough.”

In week three, things would somehow get worse for Anderson when Tulane traveled to Oxford, Mississippi to play Ole Miss. In a game where nothing went right, the Rebels routed Tulane 61-21. The Green Wave lost both its starting linebackers, as Dorian Williams was ejected for targeting while Anderson broke his fibula, sidelining him for the next month. 

In this tough moment, Anderson turned to faith, which had helped him through difficult times in the past. “But that really just led to just that like I said, just having that faith in God just knowing He’s gonna work something out … Faith means everything to me. I feel like I’m nothing without God … I grew up without my dad just being there all the time. So to know that I can put my trust in God to be that father figure for me, He’s carried me every step of the way,” Anderson said. 

Things got better as Anderson recovered from his broken fibula and still finished as the third leading tackler on the team despite missing three games. His return to lineup also coincided with a noticeable uptick in the team’s defensive performance in the back half of the season. Most importantly however, Anderson reported that a year after the accident, his sister “is doing great.” 

Anderson graduated from Tulane in the spring, saying, “It [feels] great. Just graduating from such an illustrious university, such as Tulane, a high profile university is just something you love to have to say that, ‘I did it, you know, I got through school.’”

Coming into this season as team captain, an honor he says means everything to him, Anderson started the season incredibly strong. He has won conference player of the week twice thanks to his efforts against Kansas State and Houston. Paired with fellow team captain Dorian Williams, the two of them are one of college football’s premier linebacker duos.

The two of them share a special bond both on and off the field. Speaking about Williams, Anderson said, “That’s my best friend, man is my best friend. We hang out together, we fight [for] each other, we go out together like that’s my dog … His work ethic matches my work ethic, his likes match my likes, and that’s been my dog man, we’ve been living together ever since. And that’s my brother. I can always count on him on and off the field. And I’ve always fought for him.”

Going forward, Tulane will continue to rely on the pair to be the heart of their defense. Anderson is thinking about the 2023 NFL Draft but says that his daily work is going to determine how that process will play out. Anderson continues to stress his faith and wants to continue to use his platform to show how God has worked in his life.

“I want everybody to know when they see me they see my platform, they see all these accomplishments, everything that I’ve done. It’s not me doing it physically, I’m just the middleman. It’s really God working through me. [It’s] God allowing people to see His light through me and everything that I do and as long as I have a platform, as long as I put on the helmet and lace those cleats I’m always gonna let people know that this is God’s work, not mine.”

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Anderson (1) pumps his team up before the Houston game. Teammates often refer to Anderson as the heart of the defense. (Courtesy of Parker Waters)

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