By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
It’s funny sometimes how one seemingly unimportant moment can change a young man’s life forever. In the summer after his junior year at Absegami, Abdullah Anderson was shooting some baskets at the high school and caught a glimpse of the football players getting ready for a workout. Anderson, who had played youth football, decided it was time to tell Braves coach Dennis Scuderi Jr. that he might like to finish out his prep career with one season of football.
Scuderi didn’t need to be asked twice to take on a big, strong kid he could plug into his defensive front. Anderson went on to have a good enough season to catch the eye of Bucknell University coach Joe Susan, and fours year later, Anderson is the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, is training for the NFL Players Association game and is hoping to get picked up in the NFL draft this spring. Quite a turn of events for a kid who thought he was going to play college basketball.
“Dennis Scuderi and I had worked together previously, so I was fortunate to be the first guy he sent the film to. It was obvious watching him that he had potential, even knowing he had only played one year in high school. He had the potential to be a very good defensive player. We thought he would be a defensive end. He was just under 6-4 and weighed in at 235, and that’s what you’re looking for. But then he showed up as a freshman he was 275, and his life as an outside guy became short because we moved him right inside. He played at about 300 pounds his sophomore and junior years. He was very disciplined about his body and his weight, and didn’t lose one bit of movement when he gained that weight and strength. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around in terms of working at all the components it takes to be good, and he wound up being really good — he was a four-time all-league player, and a three-time first-team all-league player,” Susan said. “Dennis was trying to get him to play football for the longest time, and he finally gave in to Dennis badgering him. The word student of the game really applies to him. When you think of student of the game, everybody thinks, ‘well, he studies football.’ But it goes way beyond that. It goes to fundamental preparation, physical and body preparation, and he’s done all those things to put him in a position where he was the defensive player of the year in the league.”
“I only played one year of high school football, so I was going into my college career more focused on academics than anything else. I knew I had a job to do with a full scholarship to Bucknell. I was going to try to come in and be a strong run-stopping defensive end, and I thought that would be my job. But there was an opening at defensive tackle, and I kind of found my home there,” Anderson said. “It’s kind of crazy for me because I thought I was going to come in as an off-the-edge kind of guy, but I found my home as a three-technique, taking on double teams and stopping the run from the inside.
“It was funny because after coach Susan saw me play he said (to Scuderi), ‘put a cage around this guy and don’t let anybody else know about him, because we have to have him.’ I didn’t even know if I would get a scholarship playing football because I was just doing it because it was my senior year and it was going to be the last chance to play the sport with all my friends before everybody’s lives went down a different path. It was a blessing in disguise, I guess. I wanted to be a basketball player and just focus on that,” Anderson added. “Even before I started high school, coach Scuderi was wondering why I wasn’t playing football anymore. I saw the guys out there one day after I was shooting some baskets and I went up to coach Scuderi and said I wanted to play football, and he couldn’t get the pads on me fast enough. It was a great decision on part because it gave me a chance to get great education and be able to set my future in a direction I could have never had if I didn’t play high school football.”
If any NFL scouts happen to call coach Susan’s office inquiring about Anderson, they should expect to be on the phone for a while. Susan is not shy about singing the praises of one of his favorite players the past four years.
“His junior and senior years we had two really good inside players, and in both those cases those guys got hurt. The way offenses attack or defend Abdullah made it simpler on them because they could slide the protection to him. But he still dominated, obviously, and when people talk to us about our team they say, ‘where’d you get that guy?’ He was dominating against both the run and the pass. One of the things that has impressed NFL guys who have looked at him was that there were games when he played 90 reps and didn’t miss a beat. Usually, for a defensive lineman, you’re rotating those guys. But he never really had to come out, and he got mad at us when he had to come out. He put himself in a position where he’s going to have the opportunity to play on a Sunday,” Susan said. “He was honored at the Brooks-Irvine event and the next day got on a plane to go train with a group down in Tampa. He’s preparing for the NFL Players Association game, and I think his performance in that will put him in a position where he’s recognized as a potential combine guy. If he gets to the combine, I think he’ll really impress those guys. The scouts who have come through our program really like what they see, and the other thing the scouts said to me was, ‘Joe, they don’t call holding in your league, do they?’ Part of what didn’t get holding penalties was, sure, they were holding him, but it really didn’t disrupt his path from point A to point B.”
Anderson is the kind of guy who is always looking to get better, so once he committed himself to college football, the next task was becoming a dominating player.
“I always try to meet high expectations I set. I wanted to start as a freshman, and when I reached that goal, then I wanted to get all-conference on my back. I got that freshman year and was like, ‘OK, now what else can I do?’ After the last game of my junior year, I said to my coach, ‘I’m going to get that Defensive Player of the Year (award) next year, watch me,’” Anderson said. “He said that if I wanted that, I had to go out and put the work in. I kicked my workouts into a different gear. I’m just blessed to have that honor and see that my hard work is being recognized by other people.”
Anderson comes from a solid background. His dad has a barber shop in Atlantic City and his mom is a teacher, and they’ve stressed academics throughout his life. He’s on track to graduate from Bucknell this spring with a degree in economics.
“The other thing I think is important is that he’s going to graduate on time, and I think a lot of the guys who start training right after their senior season delay graduation, but he’s going to graduate on time because he’s prepared himself in advance. He’s going to come back for graduation, and that’s an important thing because guys don’t last forever in the NFL,” Susan said. “He has a great family background, too. His dad has a barber shop in Atlantic City and his mom is a teacher. The support they give — and more so the structure they provide for him — has been outstanding.”
Susan said it’s not going to be easy to find somebody who can fill Anderson’s shoes next fall for the Bison.
“It’s going to be hard to replace him. We had a left tackle out of Paulsboro last year who got drafted and is with the Texans now. When guys like this leave, it’s hard to find that next guy, especially on the defensive front. Everybody is looking for them,” he said. “If our opponents didn’t game plan against (Abdullah), he would ruin the game. That’s how dominating he is and was. He uses his hands well. He’s still a very good basketball athlete, and I think that has translated well into the type of football player he is. He finally came to the realization that there aren’t many 6-4 forwards in college basketball.”
Anderson said right now he is putting all his focus into seeing if he can actually become an NFL player. If it doesn’t work out, he’ll still have a degree from one of the nation’s top universities to fall back on.
“I’m training for that game, my pro day and hopefully the NFL combine. I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing for four years, staying focused, staying with my hard work and hopefully good things will come out of it,” Anderson said. “I was just home recently and I was helping my dad do some stuff at his barber shop and I saw old pictures of me as a skinny little basketball player. I was like, ‘man, if I can make this a reality and make football my job, this will be such a blessing.’ Hopefully I can make it reality. With the amount of hard work I put in, and the effort I put into my game, I feel like it can happen, as long as I keep my nose to the grind and my heart strong.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays