Instead of making him 'Derrick Thomas II,' let Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. be himself | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

With the exception of sharing a name with Will Anderson Sr., Alabama defensive end Will Anderson Jr. has an identity all his own, and that’s as it should be.

He’s not the next Derrick Thomas or Tim Williams or Eric Curry, even if he shares some characteristics with them. It’s possible that he will be approaching the Thomas level by what is likely to be a three-year career with the Crimson Tide, per mock draft experts who already have looked at the 2023 NFL prospects. But placing the burden of comparisons on a sophomore, even if he can live up to them, is premature at best.

Alabama, which has a treasure trove of past greats with which current players can be compared, isn’t unique in that respect. The same thing happens at Auburn, for instance, although no one is going to toss around any Bo Jackson comparisons no matter how good Tank Bigsby is. Bo was, well, Bo.

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Time changes some things. Two generations ago, no one would compare any Alabama wide receiver to Don Hutson. A generation later, it was Ozzie Newsome. Students today might not see the likes of DeVonta Smith again for 30 years.

The game changes. Personalities are different.

Thomas was, of course, a supreme talent. If he were still with us, he wouldn’t object to the revelation that while he loved to compete on Saturdays (and, as a pro, on Sundays), he was not always an aficionado of Wednesday afternoons. He wouldn’t shirk practice, but that’s not to say he loved it. 

Anderson seems less of a free spirit and more of the traditional leader, tough duty for a sophomore but a role Anderson embraces.

“I try to be vocal,” Anderson said Monday. “We definitely haven’t played for 60 minutes yet. What happened at Florida was a real eye-opener for us.

”I understand that if I see something that isn’t the way it should be and I don’t say something, it is selfish of me. I’m hurting the team.”

Coach Nick Saban sees Anderson as something more  

 "I don’t see him as a work in progress at all,” Saban said Wednesday. “I see him being one of the guys on our team who plays to the standard we want guys to play to. And he does it all the time, and he does it on a consistent basis. He sets a great example for every other player who wants to be successful.

”He went out Saturday (against Florida) with a warrior mentality and played like a warrior, was (SEC) Player of the Week even though he wasn’t 100% and he wasn’t. He hasn’t practiced all week (because of a sore knee), some but not what he usually does, and he still played that way.

”I think there is a difference in the way pro players approach (playing hurt) and college players approach it. Pro players want to go out there because it’s their job. They want to get paid. College players think they have to be 100% to play. 

“He played. He got tired in the game and he persevered. That creates tremendous value for anyone who can do it, and he did it.”

Not to roll out the tired old chestnut and say “he did it his way.” But Will Anderson deserves the chance to do just that.”

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter.com @cecilhurt.