2022 Newberry vs Wingate

Unwanted To Nearly Unstoppable - The Journey Of Newberry's Mario Anderson

Unwanted To Nearly Unstoppable - The Journey Of Newberry's Mario Anderson

Mario Anderson's greatest asset, according to Newberry College running backs coach Pierce Spangler, is his strength.

Nov 4, 2022 by Stephen Kerr
Unwanted To Nearly Unstoppable - The Journey Of Newberry's Mario Anderson

Several years ago, Goose Creek (South Carolina) High School running backs coach Jamie Fordham was sitting with a group of area coaches discussing who some of the best players were.

At one point, the position of running back came up. Several of the coaches were leaning toward one player, who ended up committing to a school in the Sun Belt Conference.

Fordham, however, had someone else in mind. He had seen film on a running back from Stratford High named Mario Anderson. Even though he played for a different team than his own, Fordham was convinced Anderson was the real deal.

"He was the best, most aggressive and physical, the perfect blend of size and speed," said Fordham, who also works as a trainer at The Factory, a sports performance facility in the area.

One of Anderson's teammates at Stratford happened to train at Fordham's gym. Anderson decided to join him one day. He was introduced to Fordham, and the two hit it off immediately.

"When I went there, Coach Fordham said he was always a fan of mine," recalled the 5-foot-9, 210-pound redshirt sophomore. "He liked the way I ran the ball and stuff like that. From that day, he gave me the tools I believe made me the back I am today."

A native of Summerville, Anderson is the second-youngest of four children to Mario Sr. and Sequoya Anderson. His oldest brother ran track at both Ohio State and Arkansas. His younger brother also plays football at Newberry.

Anderson and his siblings grew up being raised by his mother and grandmother. Sequoya worked as a supervisor for a call center while raising four children. It was by no means an easy life, but Anderson learned a lot from watching the sacrifices his mother and grandmother made for the family.

"I wouldn't say we were the poorest family, because that would be a lie, but a lot of things were a struggle," he said. "My mother raised four young men by herself, along with my grandmother. The only thing me and my brothers had for peace was sports."

Sequoya dropped the boys off at school each day, often having to take off early from work to pick them up from each of their sporting events. 

Mario Anderson struggled academically through much of his school life. 

He went to live with his father in Cleveland for a short while and attended Ginn Academy, an all-boys private school founded by Ted Ginn Sr., a local coach and father of NFL wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. It was there Anderson began to see his potential, both as a football player and a young man.

"Ted Ginn Sr. pushed me to see my potential," Anderson explained. "I still keep in contact with him to this day."

Anderson returned to Summerville and enrolled at Stratford High, where his football career began to take off. 

As a senior, he finished in the top 25 in the state in rushing yards and was selected to the North/South All-Star Game. Stratford head coach Dennie McDaniel and his staff took Anderson under their guidance, just as Ted Ginn Sr. had.

"Coming back home to Stratford, (the coaches) really helped me push in the weight room and with my grades," Anderson said. "I graduated with a GPA above 3.0. They helped me with school and everything, and that's when I knew I had a chance to at least play at the collegiate level."

Anderson initially committed to Charleston Southern University, but the week of the North/South All-Star Game, he was informed the school had made a coaching change, and he no longer would fit in their plans, forcing him to decommit.

What followed was a frustrating series of offers and rejected offers. Anderson spoke with several schools in the South Atlantic Conference. Each one made an offer, then backed away.

It wasn't because of his grades, and it certainly had nothing to do with his talent as a football player. Anderson was involved in an incident at school that resulted in him getting into trouble. 

While he realizes it was the main reason colleges were reluctant to offer him a scholarship, it was disheartening to realize no one wanted him. Fordham did his best to encourage him.

"It was an isolated incident," Fordham said. "Mistakes happen. Just because you made a mistake doesn't mean you are a problem. I think a lot of people had a hard time seeing past the mistake and seeing the person. They characterized him as whatever incident that he got into."

Anderson's big break finally came. 

McDaniel was well acquainted with Newberry head coach Todd Knight and placed a call to him on Anderson's behalf. Knight liked what he saw on film and invited Anderson for a visit. There was just one problem: Knight could only offer $500, which meant Anderson would have to join the team as a walk-on.

"That's when I was at the lowest of my career," Anderson recalled. "I didn't think I was going to be in college. Coach Knight gave me the opportunity even if it was $500. I told him I'd take it right there."

Once he arrived at Newberry, Anderson was behind a group of several upperclassmen running backs, and was redshirted. It was a difficult adjustment after being a high school star, but it also gave him a chance to learn patience and become familiar with the playbook.

"God has a time for everyone," Anderson said. "My freshman year was not my time."

Anderson's chance to play finally came during the abbreviated 2020-2021 spring season, when he rushed for 504 yards and four touchdowns on 69 carries in six games. Last season, he rushed for 1,237 yards and 12 TDs in 13 games.

This season has only reinforced Anderson's reputation as one of the best backs in NCAA Division II. 

Through eight games, he has carried the ball 164 times for 1,232 yards and 16 touchdowns. 

He had a career-high 246 yards and four scores at Catawba on Oct. 15. His longest run from scrimmage came the following week, a 75-yard scamper against Lenoir-Rhyne, and he's on the watch list for the Harlon Hill Trophy, the Division II equivalent of the Heisman.

"He takes (the game) extremely seriously," Knight said. "If people around him aren't moving at the same pace he is, he will let you know about it quick."

Anderson's greatest asset, according to Wolves running backs coach Pierce Spangler, is his strength.

"If you looked at him in street clothes, you really wouldn't think he's as strong as he is," Spangler said. "But he's a very strong kid in the weight room. He's very explosive and physical and violent when he runs. It's rare for him to go down on first contact."

When he goes home to Summerville, Anderson makes it a point to work out at Stratford and share his story with the team's current players. It has been a difficult but humbling journey.

"I came from a place that was little to nothing," he explained. "Any kind of opportunity I do get is greatly appreciated. I'm grateful for everything I have."

More challenges are sure to follow, but Fordham believes Anderson will get an opportunity to play at the next level when the time comes.

"I think he's going to continue to show everybody who he is," Fordham said. "I always tell him, 'if you have the ability, if you are who you think you are, they'll find you and take notice of who you are.' My anticipation is that he will get a shot after he finishes all his eligibility in college."