Wednesday, 04 April 2012 04:51

This is Where it All Started

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From the President and Founder of the GYFL

My dad exposed me to every sport at a very young age and I began to excel at all of them quickly.  I remenber the day the cement truck pulled up to our house and broke the fence to our back yard as it backed it's way deep into the yard to lay the foundation for the basketball court my father bought for me.  He spared no expense.  I had the fiberglass backboard, a regulation 10 foot basket, and the cement was laid at the perfect angle so the water could roll off more easily when it rained.  If they had a 3 point line back then, I am quite sure he would have put one in for me.  That is the way he was.  But, nothing could compare to his passion for that football.

I remember when he bought me the Johnny Bench “Batter Up” machine and we put that in the back yard. The machine was based in cement also so it was sturdy. There was a pole that came out of the cement, which was about 5 ft high. There was an actual baseball attached to an arm that was connected to the top of the pole with think rubber bands. As I would take a home run swing and hit the ball, the arm would wrap around the pole numerous times and the rubber band would get tighter and tighter until it reached the limit. Then the arm would swing back in the other direction at a rapid pace, replicating a fastball and I would take another whack. It was great for hand eye coordination and helped me become a very good hitter. My dad and I enjoyed baseball, but again, nothing could compare to his passion for football. 

My house was like the Capital Heights recreation center. All the kids from the neighborhood congregated at my house to play basketball, hit that Johnny Bench batter up, or participate in our favorite pastime, which was playing some football. My dad would line us up at the wide receiver position and have us run routes with precision. “Give me a 10 yard come back,” he would yell. “Run a 15 yard post,” or “Flatten out that crossing route, son!” He taught me how to play the running back position when I was 5 years old. By the time I was old enough to play organized ball, I had the advantage because I had already mastered the 3-point stance, I knew the proper way to take a hand off with my inside arm up. I knew what an open step and a chop block was.  

My dad showed me how to not only read blocks, but also how to set them up. It was no coincidence that I became a 2 time All Met performer at DeMatha in the mid 80’s. I was prepared when I got there because of what my father taught me at a young age and the decisions that he made for me with regard to which programs I would play for and who I would be coached by. My dad was a scientist who choreographed my entire career.   He dreamt about it. He visualized it. He prepared me for it. He designed it. It is because of the decisions that my father made and sacrifices that both he and my mother made that the Grassroots Youth Football League was birthed. I dream of my staff and I being able to do the same things for the youth that participate in the GYFL that my father did for me.

When I was old enough to play organized ball, my father researched all the top youth programs in the area. My first experience on the football field was playing for Millwood under Mr. Earl Davis. This was the mid 70’s, when the Steelers were winning Super Bowls left and right. I chose a Steelers helmet. We bought Riddell football cleats, elbow pads, a mouthpiece and all the accessories. Man, was I ready for the first day of football practice. My dad took me of course. Many of the other kids rode their bikes to practice, or walked. I think I might have been the only one who actually had football cleats for the first day of practice. The other kids were looking at me like I was crazy.

It didn’t really matter to me that though, because on the field I thought I was as good as any of them. But, these kids were a year or two older than I was so at times there was an intimidation factor. There was one kid in particular that was really good. His name was Quinton Boardley. Quinton was the man for Millwood before I got there. He was two years older than I was but was very skinny. I probably weighed more than he did. I guess we were cool, but I never got the feeling he or many of the other kids liked me very much, initially.

It was obvious from day one that Quinton was going to have to share the spotlight, and I don’t think he or any of the other kids liked the fact that this little 8 year old was the one taking it away. But, what could I do? I wasn’t going to downplay my talent because of them. It wasn’t my fault if their fathers hadn’t prepared them the way mine prepared me. From day one on the football field I knew that I was good. My father gave me that confidence. I was faster, quicker, and smarter than most of them. While my teammates were struggling with the playbook, I had already mastered it as well.  
 
My first year playing football turned out to be a glimpse at a future that would be filled with success on the gridiron. I started at halfback and led the team in yards and touchdowns. I won my first MVP trophy that year, but it wouldn’t be the last. I will never forget that first year playing organized football. It was one thing to dominate in the front yard, but it was another to do it in the Pop Warner League with the cheer of the crowd in the background. 

The next year my father decided to move me over to Peppermill Village Boys and Girls Club. We were the Peppermill Village Pirates and we wore green and white uniforms. Peppermill played football in what was considered to be one of the best leagues in the state of Maryland, the Beltway League. The Beltway League used to play its championship game on television every year and remember sitting by the TV watching the games and dreaming about playing in it one day.

Well, my dad knew about the importance of exposure and before I knew it, I was suiting up for the green and white to play on the 75-pound team. I was 9 and again, most of the kids were 10 and 11. Since I didn’t live in Peppermill Village I didn’t know any of the kids and they didn’t accept me to well, initially. My next-door neighbor Mr. Clarence Harrison was my coach. I don’t believe that you had to live in Peppermill to coach there, but you were supposed to live there to play. But, Mr. Harrison had just taken over and he had seen my exploits in the front yard for a couple of years. He wasn’t about to let me getaway. So, we did what we needed to do. I played for many great coaches over the years, but I considered Mr. Harrison was my first great one, after my father of course.

As I said, the kids didn’t accept me at first. I would come in contact with my first bit of athletic adversity when I decided to go play for Peppermill. Coach Harrison was new to the program too, and they had their own pecking order established. Mr. Harrison told me about it before I even met the players for the first time.

The first day of practice was scary.  I will never forget Mr. Harrison telling me to make sure to be ready to go because they had a running back last year that was fast as lightning and they called him the “Juice.” He wore #32 after the original “Juice” O.J. Simpson. Man, those Peppermill dudes had it going on back then. They had the neighborhood and the running back positions on lock down.

I had to prove myself once again. At first I was a little intimidated. It wasn’t like Millwood on the first day of practice. These brothers had cleats just like I did, and they were white ones too. Greg was wearing a pair of Spot Built cleats, just like O.J Simpson used to wear. I was upset because I wanted a pair of Hook Stars like my idol Tony Dorsett, but I couldn’t find them in the stores. Plus, I couldn't get my favorite number, which was 33 because it was already spoken for.  I was wearing some brand new Puma’s, and they were tight. But, they weren’t the Hook Stars. I figured they Peppermill kids had the advantage over me. They were from the neighborhood, they had already played in the program before, they had established reputations, they were older, and they were good. I am not going to lie to you. I was scared. But, my pops wasn’t having any of that.

He didn’t care who they were or how good they thought they were. In his opinion, nobody was better than me. He drilled that into me and I believed it. By the time the first game came, “Juice” and I were sharing the backfield and the touchdowns together and I was getting it done.  I had won again. I may not have gotten my number, but I was the starting running back. I led the team in rushing and touchdowns and we almost made it to the championship game. 23 cross buck, Coach Harrison. I will never forget.

I remember the first Turkey Bowl game that we had. I rushed for like 3 touchdowns and didn’t get the MVP trophy for the game. My mother and father were pissed and I was a little disappointed. I would begin to learn many political lessons during my sports career. This was just he first. I had come into a new environment and I was an outsider to some extent.  I stayed with Peppermill throughout my Boys Club Football career. We won championships at 85lb. and 105lb. I got to play on TV and I won my MVP trophies. Mr. Harrison and Rod Turner taught us and stayed with us throughout our Boys Club years and we went out on top. I was a full-fledged winner.

The next big decision that my father made for me was the selection of a high school. Just as with the youth league selection, my dad did his homework. Back in those days, we played 3 sports year around. Kids didn’t specialize like they do now. There was no AAU so the best athletes played club football, basketball, and baseball. I was dominant in all 3 sports, but football was what my size was best suited for. After thorough research, my father decided that DeMatha Catholic High School provided the best combination of football, basketball, and academics, so against my wishes, he forced me to go to that All Boys Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland in 1981.

I was some kind of upset. I didn’t want to an All Boys School and have to wear button up shirt, tie, and blazer every day. Are you kidding me? Those were the days of IZOD Lacoste (the alligator), and I was the fashion plate of Walker Mill Junior High School. Fortunately for me, my father could care less. He was not about to let a 14 year old kid make a decision that would impact the rest of his life. He knew I wasn’t knowledgeable about life in general to make a decision as important as that and he didn’t give me the option. Thank God for my father. He sent me to DeMatha and forced me to go out for Varsity Football my freshman year.

DeMatha had some of the best high school football players in the region back then, as they still do now. I was so afraid to go out and play against those big guys, but my father knew I was ready to compete, even if I didn’t know it. He networked like crazy with the coach (Jerry Franks at the time.). He prepared me all summer, and when I went out there for practice I shocked all of those guys with my courage, talent, and ability. I put my name on the radar screen at DeMatha during those 2 weeks of 2 a day practices and my life would never be the same.

I didn’t initially make the varsity because we had an All-American tailback who played in the NFL for many years named Steve Smith, we have an electrifying runner named Kevin Ford behind him, and elusive, powerful and slick running back named Mo Bowie backing both of them up. Either one of those guys could have started. So, they moved me down to the freshman team so that I could play and get experience. What I was able to do against kids my own age was frightening and before the end of the season, I was moved up to the Varsity team.

The rest is pretty much history. During my sophomore year, I was a significant member of the 1982 DeMatha squad that won the first ever WCAC Championship in Bill McGregor’s first year as a head coach. During my junior year I was the centerpiece of a team that lost in a heartbreaker to arch rival Carroll High School in the Championship Game, but had a dream season. I was the only junior to make the 1st Team All Met that year and was selected as the Offensive Player of the Year. My senior year was a coronation. I was once again an All Met performer and All American. More importantly, we had DeMatha’s very first undefeated season and 10-0, and we won the second WCAC Championship. I was able to parlay that opportunity into scholarship offers from major Division 1 schools from all over the country. I accepted a full scholarship to the University of Maryland where I played 4 years of football and 1 year of basketball, all while battling leukemia (a story for another article).

I was able to take the God-given talent and turn it into a free college education and an opportunity to network with successful people that have opened doors for me since I left college. I have my Peppermill Village to thank for that. I have DeMatha to thank for that. I have the University of Maryland to thank for that.

More importantly, I have my father to thank for that. As I said before, he dreamt about his son’s future. He visualized how it would play out. He prepared me for that future. He strategized, choreographed it, and made all of his and my dreams for me a reality. Although the GYFL’s business model began development in 2007, the spirit of the Grassroots Youth Football League was birthed in the Mind of my dad in 1967.

This league is my father’s brainchild and I dedicate the GYFL to my late father, Mr. Norman Anderson.  Norman Anderson passed away on July 1, 2011.  It was the Friday before the Championship Game.  I dedicated the Trophy to my fathers memory and every Championship Team from now on will play for the Norman Anderson Memorial Trophy. 

Rest in Peace Dad.  I love you man. I will continue your legacy and make sure they NEVER FORGET YOUR NAME.  See you when I get there.

Mike
 

 

 

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