ASHBURN, Va. -- The game wasn’t going well and the opposing quarterback, who happened to be future No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston, reminded him of his struggles. With a subtle gesture.
It was just a seven-on-seven game before Ryan Anderson’s senior year of high school. But it served as a symbol for his fire -- and Winston was the target. Anderson, transitioning at the time to inside linebacker, had made some mistakes.
“I was struggling with some coverage stuff and they were beating us and he was the No. 1 quarterback,” Anderson said. “They had an angle route on me and they scored. They came back out for the two-point conversion and [Winston] winked at me."
Anderson, naturally, wasn't in the mood.
"So they run a crossing route and he lobbed it to the receiver," Anderson said, "and I just tried to kill him.”
Winston’s team didn’t take too kindly to Anderson drilling a receiver.
“Both teams cleared the bench,” Anderson said. “There were a few words said.”
There were no punches, but plenty of shoves between Anderson and Winston. Both have matured in their careers -- Winston is entering his third year with Tampa Bay; the Washington Redskins drafted Anderson in the second round last month -- and that game is now just a humorous anecdote.
“He’s a good friend of mine,” Anderson said of Winston. “I ain’t talked to him in a minute, but he’s a good dude.”
But that fire is partially why the Redskins liked Anderson enough to draft him. He made plays at outside linebacker, too, which obviously helps. However, that nasty demeanor also makes a difference. Anderson said he’s all about football.
“I grew up loving and watching this game,” Anderson said. “I’m a big football fan. Those guys instilled a certain mentality in my head as to how this game is supposed to be played. I try to keep that same approach, try to keep it about football. I don’t think about the money. I try to do what I love. It’s a blessing.”
Anderson turned that approach into a starting job at Alabama on a defense loaded with talent. What he didn’t do, coach Nick Saban said, is use it in a negative way by drawing silly penalties. Rather, teammates viewed Anderson as a tone-setter, whether in practice or games.
“It was never a negative,” Saban said by phone. “We’re talking about a guy who never had issues off the field. He was never a guy that got a lot of emotional, undisciplined penalties. He’s a real strong competitor; great character, plays hard and is tough. He tries to dominate the guy he’s playing against.”
Anderson said his goals at the Redskins' rookie minicamp last weekend were simple: Show that he could retain the defense (and get in better shape). But he also wanted to show others the proper approach.
“Effort, run to the ball, don’t loaf and try to get guys going with me,” Anderson said.
It’s what he did at Alabama.
“He was a leader,” Saban said. “He was well-respected by teammates and he cared about guys on the team. It showed in how he tried to help teach the sort of standard in how we wanted to do things here. He set a good example for the most part as a practice player.”
And he displayed that fire even in offseason competitions long ago versus Winston. Anderson wasn't the fastest outside linebacker -- he was timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.78 seconds. But he was considered a better player than workout guy. It took him until last season to earn a full-time starting job; he responded with nine sacks and 19 tackles for a loss. He attributes his success to his mindset, a fire that was displayed long ago.
“That’s why I’m where I am now,” Anderson said. “I’ll never change that.”