August 22, 2013 10:49:08 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
The learning process is never complete.
But Hunter Anderson enters the 2013 season confident in the knowledge he has digested the lessons from a championship season and is ready to take on an even bigger role for the Heritage Academy football team.
Whether the senior running back/linebacker shoulders a bigger share of the burden on offense or defense remains to be seen, but Heritage Academy coach Barrett Donahoe likes what he saw from Anderson in training camp. He will get his first chance to see what Anderson can do in a game at 7 tonight when Heritage Academy plays host to Caledonia in the third installment of the Lowndes County private-public school rivalry.
Last season, Caledonia used a strong running game to beat Heritage Academy 20-7. The victory avenged a 48-45 loss the year before in the inaugural showdown between Mississippi High School Activities Association and Mississippi Association of Independent Schools members.
For Heritage Academy, the loss was a wake-up call that served as motivation for a five-game winning streak that helped it secure the MAIS Class AAA, Division II state title. Anderson played a key role on both sides of the ball last season, but his work on defense helped that unit play lights-out football down the stretch. The defense's work against Magnolia Heights running back Fernando Van Hook was a huge key in Heritage Academy's championship.
This year, Donahoe expects Anderson to do more of the same.
"I think last season toward the end of the season he was our best defensive football player," Donahoe said. "We talked a lot to Hunter over the summer about leadership roles. Last year, he was an underclassman and didn't have a lot of the pressure in terms of leadership. He was go out there and play. He had a lot of people around him who helped him make plays. We told him it was going to be different this year and that he was going to have to be a leader on the team and a lot of pressure was going to be put on him on the defensive side. He has really stepped up and done a good job."
Donahoe said Anderson's experience came through last week in a 14-0 victory against Winston Academy in a jamboree. Donahoe said the lessons about making reads and getting teammates line up properly Anderson learned from MIKE linebacker Matthew Morrison were evident last week because he always in the right spot. Donahoe said Anderson's understanding of the concepts and schemes grew as the year progressed thanks to his teammates. He hopes Anderson can play the role of leader and teacher on both sides of the ball this year.
"He controls that defensive side of the ball," Donahoe said. "He lets those guys know what they are doing wrong and how to get better."
"He is just as good on offense. He played fullback for us last year and started every game."
Anderson said all of the seniors helped him have such a strong junior season. He said they offered encouragement and instruction if he was in the wrong spot or didn't make the right read. After a while, playing in defensive coordinator Tate Marsh's defense came to be a lot of fun.
"It was never hard. It was stupid mistakes and you could (figure out what you were doing wrong) pretty easily," Anderson said. "It was just experience."
As a sophomore, Anderson played in the first game and then missed five or six weeks after suffering appendicitis, which prevented him from gaining any experience. The arrival of Donahoe and Marsh last season forced him to learn a new system and new responsibilities. He feels he is starting this season so far ahead of where he was last year.
That's why more is being expected from Anderson and he is willing to take on that challenge.
"It is a pretty big responsibility, but I think our defense can handle it," said Anderson, who will work with senior middle linebacker Jace Caldwell to make the play calls.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.