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Why Will Anderson Jr. may be Alabama’s key to winning its second straight national championship

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It’s been almost a month, so the bummer is wearing off for Will Anderson Jr. The College Football Playoff National Championship should have been enough by now to overshadow Anderson not being a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Still.

“I gave Will a couple of days before I spoke to him about it,” said Clifford Fedd, the Alabama sophomore linebacker’s former coach at Dutchtown High School. “I know Will Anderson. I know him very well. I know where his mind will go. I know where is head space will go. It was not in a bad place, but it wasn’t where it needed to be.”

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About a month ago, Fedd had what he called a “harsh, grown conversation” with Anderson, perhaps the game’s supreme edge rusher. It was then he dialed up the metaphor that has endured to this week before the title game: Anderson’s body, the coach said, is like an engine.

“As long as the body of the vehicle has a strong engine, it doesn’t matter what kind of rims and tires it has on it,” Fedd said. “Our vehicle is never in park. We don’t have a park button. We don’t have review mirrors, and we don’t have reverse.”

That comparison stuck with Anderson when (some believe) he was overlooked for the Heisman. The defensive player selected as a finalist ahead of him, Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, finished second in the voting. Anderson finished fifth with the third-most first-place votes.

“[He] really opened my eyes,” Anderson said of Fedd. “It was like, ‘Man, you were right.’ As long as I’ve got my engine, that’s all I need for my car to keep going. Anything that comes along with it makes it look nice.”

There was social media outrage in some quarters over the “snub”. It may have been a simple case of Anderson splitting votes with teammate and eventual Heisman-winning quarterback Bryce Young. Whatever the case, it spawned the engine analogy that is becoming as overwrought this week as Anderson is consistent.

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And it’s not like he was overlooked. Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean won the Butkus Award this season. Anderson won the Nagurski Award (defensive player of the year).

Everybody good?

“You didn’t get the invite,” Fedd said to Anderson. “Good, OK, thank you. We’re moving on. Now, he’s going to get defensive player of the game in the Cotton Bowl, which he did. I told him to be an influencer, be an encourager and in the meantime go win a championship. You can’t let people keep you in a bad mental spot because they might feel you got cheated. And you might have gotten cheated.”

Fedd gets a lot of calls from media these days. The coach at Dutchtown in Hampton, Georgia, is more than happy to talk about his prodigy. As a senior, Anderson had 22 sacks for Dutchtown, which is about 40 miles south of Atlanta.

Anderson comes from a tight-knit family that features five nurturing sisters who have both spoiled and teased their sibling. There is Shanice, Shawnta, Chyna, Endia and Teria, who – as told to Sports Illustrated — once locked her brother in a dryer.  

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Where did you get Chick-fil-A today, Fedd has asked Anderson?

“Shanice bought it,” the linebacker said.

Where did you get Chick-fil-A today?

“My sister Chyna bought it,” Anderson replied.

Where’d you get that nice suit?

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“My older sister got it for me,” Anderson said.

And so it goes for the star who was a unanimous first-team All-American and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Anderson became the first true freshman to start at linebacker at Alabama under coach Nick Saban. It took him until his eighth game in 2020 to get his first sack. Since then, he has 23.5 sacks in 21 games.

The word “unblockable” has been used more than once.

“I’m a car,” Anderson said. “The only thing you need to get going is that engine. Anything else that comes with it, any accolades … for instance, me getting that Nagurski Trophy, that was just the rims on my car.”

Any consternation should be diffused with the passage of time and reality. Alabama is still playing, and Anderson is still putting together a generational season. His 17.5 sacks lead the country, as do his 34.5 tackles for loss. Akron, as a team, had 37 tackles for loss. Anderson has more sacks than 16 entire teams this season.

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The last FBS player to get as many as 20 sacks in a season was Louisville‘s Elvis Dumervil in 2005.  Reaching that total should be a concern for Georgia in the CFP National Championship.

Anderson already has three sacks and four tackles for loss in the postseason against Georgia and Cincinnati. He sacked Bulldogs QB Stetson Bennett twice and forced him into two interceptions in the SEC Championship Game.

Not yet two years into his career, Anderson is edging his way onto the list of all-time linebacking greats at Alabama. Under Saban alone there have been Reggie Ragland, Rolando McClain, C.J. Mosley and Reuben Foster. Past greats include Lee Roy Jordan, Cornelius Bennett and Woodrow Lowe.

But any comparison at Alabama starts with Derrick Thoma,s whose freakishness 33 years ago remains legend. It was in 1988 that Thomas set the unofficial record with 27 sacks. The NCAA didn’t start keeping the stat until 2000.  

Thomas took over the NFL while on the Kansas City Chiefs, the team that drafted him in the first round in 1989. Since 2000, only five players have more career sacks than Thomas’ 126.5.

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Anderson knows nothing of Thomas. The best comparison for this 20-year-old is the Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams.

“He’s very violent,” Anderson said.  

It might be way too early less than two years into his college career, but there is something about Anderson’s game that equates to Thomas: the first step, the strength, the impact on the game.

Anderson has picked up at least one sack in eight consecutive games. His four sacks against Mississippi State made him only the third player in Alabama history to post that many in a single game. He was the first to do it since Thomas in 1988, who actually had five against Texas A&M that year.

“He’s one of the heavier-handed guys at his size for an outside linebacker that I’ve been able to be around as far as striking blocks and recreating the line of scrimmage,” Alabama defensive coordinator Pete Golding said of Anderson. “… I think one of his best traits is how physical he is at the point of attack and knocking guys back and being able to play the run.

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“I think everybody from a draft standpoint is looking for guys that specializing in certain things. And I think he’s got all the tools that you’re looking for from an every-down standpoint. So you throw that on top of who he is as a person, his character, his want-to, his leadership ability, he’s as special as I’ve been around.”

Anderson is an edge-rushing example of how defenses have clawed back a bit against the offensive revolution. Average points per game at their lowest in a decade (28.5). The four CFP semifinalists were among the top 20 in total defense. Georgia has one of the best overall defenses college football has seen in the last 20 years.

Anderson is a living example of why the best linemen reside in the Southeast, the same way the best strikers (in soccer) come from Brazil and Canada is the home of hockey. In the Southeast, it just is that the best defensive front seven players grow up there and usually stay home.

“I think Georgia was Will’s dream school,” Fedd said.

“We certainly want to know where he is,” Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken said of pointing out Anderson on the field Monday.

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Saban has produced four Heisman Trophy winners since 2009, including the program’s first quarterback to win the award this season. If Young (421 yards against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game) isn’t Alabama’s key to win Monday night’s title game, Anderson holds that distinction.

“One of those big, old mud-tire driving trucks,” running back Brian Robinson said when describing Anderson. “I can’t really explain, but he’s one of them guys who can get real dirty, get himself up and get ready to do what he did all over again. That’s what you use those big … trucks for — off-road type stuff.”

If his “snub” still bothers fans, consider that Anderson has to be one of the early Heisman frontrunners in 2022.

“Your car,” Fedd reminded the linebacker, “can’t sit in park.”

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Trayce Thompson hits three-run home run in Dodgers' 8-3 victory over Royals

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Trayce Thompson hit a three-run home run in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 8-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals.



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Biggest MLB stars suspended for PEDs: Fernando Tatis Jr. joins Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, more on list

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Friday night, a shockwave was sent through the baseball world when Major League Baseball announced San Diego Padres star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. has been suspended 80 games after testing positive for Clostebol, a performance-enhancing drug. The 80-game suspension begins immediately. Tatis will miss the final 48 games of 2022 and the first 32 games of 2023.

“We were surprised and extremely disappointed to learn today that Fernando Tatis Jr. tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance in violation of Major League Baseball’s Joint Prevention and Treatment Program and subsequently received an 80-game suspension without pay,” read a statement by the Padres. “We fully support the Program and are hopeful that Fernando will learn from this experience.”

Between the offseason motorcycle accident that broke his wrist and this PED suspension, Tatis will miss the entire season and go roughly 20 months between appearances in an MLB game when he returns next season. The 23-year-old who’s finished in the top four in the NL MVP voting twice already is in the second year of his 14-year, $340 million contract extension.

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Needless to say, this is a shocker, and Tatis is certainly one of the biggest stars to be suspended for PEDs. Here are 10 other big name players who have been suspended for banned substances, listed alphabetically.

Suspended: 65 games in July 2013

In December 2011, Braun was suspended 50 games for PEDs, though he was able to get the suspension overturned through an appeal because the sample’s chain of custody had been broken. Less that two years later, Braun was suspended again, this time for his connections to Biogenesis. Braun was suspended 50 games for PEDs and additional 15 games for his actions during the appeals process of the original suspension. He later admitted to lying and using PEDs during his 2011 NL MVP season.

Suspended: 50 games in August 2012

If nothing else, Cabrera undoubtedly has the most ridiculous PED defense. He created a fake website pushing a fake product that he said led to a positive test inadvertently. It did not fool MLB’s investigators. Cabrera was an All-Star the year he was suspended and would have won the NL batting title, though he withdrew his name from the race. “I have no wish to win an award that would be tainted. I believe it would be far better for someone more deserving to win,” Cabrera said at the time.

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Suspended: 80 games in May 2018 and 162 games in November 2020

Unlike some other players in this post, there is no wild story to Canó’s suspension(s). He was suspended in May 2018, served it, was suspended again in November 2020, and he served that too. There was no nasty appeals process or anything like that. Canó was traded in the offseason immediately following his first suspension, however. Still hard to believe another team wanted a declining 36-year-old player owed big money and coming off a PED suspension.

Suspended: 50 games in August 2012

Colon missed all of 2010 with arm problems, resurfaced with the Yankees in 2011, then joined the Athletics as a free agent in 2012. He took responsibility for the failed test and went on to spend another seven years in the big leagues as a journeyman starter.

Suspended: 50 games in August 2013

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A total of 13 players were suspended in 2013 as part of the Biogenesis scandal, and Cruz — an All-Star that season and a year away from becoming a consistent 40-homer threat — was among them. Cruz did have to settle for a one-year contract as a free agent after the 2013 season, however.

Jenrry Mejia

Suspended: 80 games in April 2015, 162 games in July 2015, and a lifetime ban in February 2016

Mejia was not a big name player, but he deserves a mention here because he was the first — and is still the only — player to be hit with a lifetime ban as a result of a third positive PED test. And the thing is, Mejia was hit with his second suspension while he was serving his first, and he was hit with his third suspension when he was still serving his second. Now, lifetime bans aren’t always lifetime bans. Mejia was quietly granted reinstatement in July 2018, though he has not pitched in an MLB game since 2015. He is still active and is currently pitching in the Mexican League.

Rafael Palmeiro

Suspended: 10 days in August 2005

The first star player to be suspended for PEDs, Palmeiro was hit with his suspension less than five months after sitting in front of a Congressional panel and saying: “I have never used steroids. Period.” The suspension came less than a month after Palmeiro became the fifth player to reach the milestones of 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Palmeiro’s suspension also shows how far the penalties have come. He was suspended only 10 days. Now, first-time offenders get 80 games.

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Manny Ramirez

Suspended: 50 games in May 2009 and 100 games in April 2011

Ramirez was not the first player to be suspended twice for PEDs — Neifi Pérez was suspended 25 games in July 2017 and then 80 games in August 2007 — but he was certainly the first big star to be suspended for PEDs twice. Manny was with the Rays and voluntarily retired following the second suspension and later agreed to a reduced 50-game ban in December 2011, though it is technically still pending. Should Ramirez, now 50, attempt a comeback, he’ll have to serve the suspension before being activated by an MLB team. Manny played in the minors in 2012, in Taiwan in 2013, and in the minors again in 2014.

Alex Rodriguez

Suspended: 162 games in 2014

A-Rod never actually failed a PED test. He did admit to using PEDs during his time with the Texas Rangers, then he was suspended following MLB’s investigation into Biogenesis in August 2013. A-Rod was originally suspended 214 games (the rest of the 2013 season and all of 2014), though he got it reduced to 162 games through appeal. Rodriguez went scorched earth during the appeals process and threatened to sue MLB, the MLBPA, the Yankees, the commissioner, you name it. He never did follow through on the lawsuits, however. At the time the 162-game PED suspension was the longest in MLB history.

Miguel Tejada

Suspended: 105 games in August 2013

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Tejada, the 2002 AL MVP, tested positive for amphetamines, not testosterone or a hardcore anabolic steroid. Amphetamines were not always banned and were once common in big league clubhouses. Under the policy at the time, the first positive test for an amphetamine effectively came with a warning. The second brought a 25-game suspension and the third an 80-game suspension. Tejada had previously tested positive for an amphetamine, and he tested positive for the second and third time with the Royals in 2013. The 25-game and 80-game bans together equal 105 games. Tejada never played in the big leagues again after being suspended.



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Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado crush home runs to give the Cardinals the win

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Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado blast home runs to give the St. Louis Cardinals the win over the Milwaukee Brewers.



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