What playing for Alabama, Nick Saban did for Will Anderson

***Editor’s note: STory will appear in programs sold at the Alabama-Auburn game.

It’s difficult to say anything new about Will Anderson. The star linebacker is already one of the best players to ever come through Alabama’s legendary football program. Whether winning awards, filling the stats list, or setting an example for his teammates, he’s lived up to — and even exceeded — the immense hype since first stepping onto campus in 2020.

But his head coach, like most who know the elite edge rusher, can’t say enough about him.

“I don’t think you’ll find a better person. I don’t think you will find a better competitor. I don’t think you’ll find a guy who plays harder and is more competitive,” said Nick Saban. “We talk a lot about pride in achievement and unrelenting dissatisfaction and all the things you look for in guys who are always trying to be the best they can be – this guy has it all. And he’s a good leader. He influences everyone around him with the example he sets, the intensity with which he plays.

“And the guy has talent. He’s a big guy. He has speed. He can convert speed into power in passing frenzy. He can play the line of scrimmage with power. He uses his hands well. And he’s a smart guy. You couldn’t ask for a better person to represent your organization wherever you are. You talk about class, you talk about a class family. I can’t say enough good things about who Will Anderson is as a person and what kind of player he is.”

Saban doesn’t like to compare players and certainly doesn’t openly choose favorites. But it’s been clear over the past three seasons that Anderson is in rare company in the eyes of his head coach. Anderson, a player who doesn’t recall having his butt chewed in training, has instead received plenty of praise from Saban and that “means everything,” he said.

“I love Coach Saban so much,” Anderson said. “And to play for the greatest football coach of all time means a lot. It’s such a blessing. A lot of people have a lot of opinions about you and stuff, and I’ve always said, ‘As long as my head coach, who’s the greatest football coach of all time, knows what’s going on and knows how I’m doing and knows the person I am and know what I’m doing, nothing else really matters.”

“It just shows how much he respects me and how much he cares about me – and not just me, but the players he has here and everyone in this building. It just speaks volumes for the kind of person he is and I’m very grateful for that. I’d rather be nowhere but here in Alabama.”

Anderson is guaranteed just two more games this season before most likely moving up to the next level as a likely top-10 pick in the April 2023 NFL Draft. Ahead of his final game at Bryant-Denny Stadium, he shared what it means to him to play for The Tide.

“When I signed my letter of intent, I was all in,” Anderson said. “I was signed here not just for what it would bring in the future, but for what it would bring me now. I’ve built so many relationships with many people here, met many athletes who have come here, the staff, everyone upstairs, downstairs and it’s been great.

“It was a blessing. All the people here are doing a fantastic job doing their jobs and keeping the standards high whether it’s in the media room, staff training, even the cafeteria. Everyone is doing a really good job here and I think what Coach Saban is doing here is very special.”

Anderson arrived in Alabama as a former 5-star recruit from Hampton, Georgia and has been a starter since the first game of his freshman year in 2020. Unless he returns for his senior campaign, he will finish his career with the second-highest sacks and tackles for loss in program history, behind only Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas in both categories. With double-digit tackles for losses for the third straight year, Anderson currently leads the SEC in creating negative plays.

A finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which he won last year, and the Rotary Lombardi Award, Anderson has risen to become the top defensive player in the country since enrolling. But he’s also grown as a person, and his impact on UA ​​off the field has been just as important.

“Sportswise, I feel like I’ve grown a lot,” Anderson said. “I feel like Alabama has helped me become so versatile and do so many things, whether that’s playing indoors, 4i, four, three technique, five, six, seven outside, falling behind in coverage. All these things make me so much more versatile than when I came here.

“And then overall as a person you have so many good people who can help you. Chap, Denzell, these guys are doing a really good job of helping you become a better person and teaching you life lessons and teaching you how to get through adversity. They have a lot of people there for you when you go through things. So it was a blessing to have these people here to help you grow.”

One of his finest accomplishments is being voted captain by his teammates last year – an achievement that will likely happen again this fall and which he doesn’t think a freshman Anderson would believe if he could tell him. Another walks the stage at the Coleman Coliseum on December 10 and graduates in communications and news media in just three years.

Anderson made many plays during his time at Tuscaloosa, dropping countless quarterbacks for sacks and regularly wreaking havoc in the backfield. But in terms of the legacy he wants to leave behind at UA, it’s less about stats and more about how he comes across to others.

“Just be a big, positive influence,” Anderson said. “Being able to network well with others. To be a great competitor, a hard worker. To be able to get people going no matter what it is, to be able to be that shoulder for people to lean on. That’s what it really is, just being there for others.

“I feel like football will always take care of itself but just make sure that the people around you, your team-mates, your brothers, cheer you up and make sure they’re okay and I always do I’ll have her back and I’ll always go out and play for her and be there for her.

Did you know that BOL has a podcast? The BamaOnLine podcast brings you the latest Alabama news and insights from Travis Reier, Charlie Potter, Hank South and Tim Watts. Watch the latest episode exactly here or subscribe on iTunes today!

Contact Charlie Potter via personal message or on Twitter (@Charlie_Potter).