As far as supporters of the Scottsdale Chaparral High School football team are concerned, Shane Anderson’s football career died one night in October 2006.
“Some of their fans vandalized our football field and painted an outline of my body where I got hurt on the field the night before,” said Anderson, now a senior wide receiver for the Nevada Wolf Pack.
As Anderson remained prone in a semi-conscious state on the field that night in Arizona, not knowing if his football career was about to end as a senior for Saguaro High, the Chaparral fans reportedly were chanting, ‘Broken neck, broken neck, broken neck.’”
“I really didn’t know what they were saying,” said Anderson, who was carried off the field on a stretcher and put in an ambulance as the game was delayed a half hour. “But I heard a lot of chanting.”
The Chaparral fans clearly underestimated Anderson that night five years ago.
Anderson, who suffered a serious concussion and a minor neck injury after catching a pass, missed Saguaro’s game the following week. He would return, though, to score three touchdowns in a playoff victory a few weeks later and eventually lead Saguaro to the first of its three consecutive state championships.
“After those people said those things and did those things, all I would ever say about it was, ‘I‘ll let my performance on the field speak for me,’” Anderson said. “That’s what I did. We won the state championship that year. That was my response. I got the ring.”
Football fans, it seems, have always underestimated Anderson. And he’s always answered his critics not with words but with his performance on the field.
“I guess I’ve always had something to prove,” the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Pack receiver said this week.
Nothing has ever come easy for Shane Anderson in the sport of football.
As a freshman and sophomore at Sandra Day O’Connor High in Phoenix, he was a skinny 145-pound wide receiver. He tore his right hamstring as a sophomore. After transferring to Saguaro for his senior year he suffered that memorable neck injury and concussion against Chaparral.
Adversity followed him to Nevada.
His red-shirt freshman year he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in his fourth college game. And he spent his first four years at Nevada wondering if he’d ever get the chance to be a full-time player.
“It was tough,” he said. “But I knew eventually I’d get my chance.”
That chance finally came last Saturday against the Oregon Ducks when Anderson made his first start for the Wolf Pack.
“I knew the hard work would pay off eventually,” the senior said.
Anderson has never been afraid of a little hard work. Hard work, after all, is really the only reason he is still playing football.
“After I tore my hamstring my sophomore year in high school, I had a life-changing moment,” Anderson said. “I got in touch with a trainer and that’s when I discovered what weight lifting could do for me.”
He was 5-foot-11, 145 pounds at the time. He was barely big enough to play high school football, let alone dare to dream about a college football career.
“The older guys on my team started to tease me when I would lift weights because I was just a skinny kid,” Anderson said. “But I kept at it. My trainers and coaches kept telling me, “Yeah, you’re skinny but you have the right frame for it (lifting weights). You can run and you are a good enough athlete. If you keep working, you can play college football. You can do it.’”
That’s all Anderson had to hear.
“By the next year I was 185 pounds and by my senior year I was 205,” he said.
He scored five touchdowns in one game during his junior year. As a senior he scored on a run, a pass reception and a kickoff return in one game. He also turned in one of his most memorable performances just a few weeks after suffering that concussion against Chaparral.
The game was a state semifinal playoff matchup in December 2006 against Avondale Agua Fria High. And it was to be played at Anderson’s old high school, Sandra Day O‘Connor High.
Anderson returned to his former home field that night and scored three first-half touchdowns. Two of them came on 55 and 35-yard returns of interceptions. The other score was on a 26-yard catch as Saguaro advanced to the title game.
“My buddies have been giving me crap about it all week,” Anderson told Azcentral.com after that game. “I knew I had to come out and play great.”
College recruiters started to take notice of Anderson the spring and summer after his junior year, after a 52-catch season for Sandra Day O’Connor High. “I went to a Nike camp (in Palo Alto, Calif.) and did real well,” Anderson said. “That’s when I started to get looked at seriously.”
He ran a 4.47 40-yard dash, had a 41-inch vertical jump and had the third best time in a shuttle run.
He transferred to Saguaro for his senior year, played three positions (wide receiver, safety and punter), won a state title, was named to the Arizona All-State team and at the end of the year received scholarship offers from the Wolf Pack, Colorado State, UTEP, Idaho and Northern Arizona.
“He has abilities that come naturally,” Saguaro coach Mike Reardon was quoted by Rivals.com in 2007. “Besides being one of the fastest kids in the state he has size and an innate ability to understand the game. And you can add a great work ethic.”
Anderson chose the Wolf Pack, red-shirted his freshman year in 2007 and watched on the sidelines as a freshman quarterback named Colin Kaepernick tossed passes to wide receivers Marko Mitchell, Kyle Sammons and Mike McCoy.
Anderson used that red-shirt year to show his coaches how badly he wanted to help his new team. That skinny kid at Sandra Day O’Connor High had now turned into a monster in the weight room.
“He was benching 400 pounds that year,” Pack wide receivers coach Scott Baumgartner said. “We knew that, athletically, he had what it took. And he came in here and worked as hard as anyone.”
Anderson, though, touched the football exactly six times in a game (on four catches and two runs) over his first four years in the Wolf Pack football program. This, don’t forget, is the same kid who once scored five touchdowns in one game and rarely left the field in high school.
It looked like Anderson would never get five touches in a game, let alone five touchdowns, as a Pack player. The Pack kept bringing in wide receivers (namely Tray Session, Brandon Wimberly, Rishard Matthews as well as Moe Patterson, L.J. Washington and Malcolm Shepherd) that immediately jumped over him on the depth chart.
Nobody would have blamed Anderson if he suddenly showed up on another college football team’s roster.
Anderson, though, has never been one to back away from a challenge.
“That would have been the easy thing to do,” said Anderson of a possible transfer to another school. “But I never really thought of doing that.”
Anderson had another plan. He decided to keep working even harder.
“I thought the best way for me to get on the field was to keep my mouth shut, work harder and try to make my name on special teams,” Anderson said. “Special teams became my whole focus because that was my way to get on the field. It was tough not playing but I just decided to let all of my frustrations out on the field on special teams and let my play do my talking.”
Just like his senior year after those Chaparral fans painted his body outline on the field.
“That’s all you can do,” Anderson said. “You have to let your performance speak for you.”
Unfortunately, though, it seemed like nobody was paying attention for four years. Anderson spent his first three years on the Pack’s active roster watching Kaepernick throw most of his passes to other receivers. And there was also a huge bump in his road along the way. Just four games into his Pack career in 2008 he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.
“It was on a kickoff return against UNLV,” Anderson said. “I saw this guy coming and I knew he didn’t see me coming. I was really going to put a kill shot on him. I hit the guy with my right shoulder. But my left shoulder just kept going.”
Nobody painted an outline of his body on the field at UNLV the next day after the injury but they could have.
Anderson’s college career was now in jeopardy almost before it started.
“When you suffer an injury like that and your season ends, it’s a lot tougher than people think,” Anderson said. “You get a sense of isolation, like you are not really a part of the team anymore. You don’t go to meetings, you’re not practicing with your teammates. All you do is go in to see the trainer everyday and then go home.
“It was a real tough time for me. And it was really like I had to start all over again.”
He nearly started all over again at a new position.
“The coaches talked to me about moving to safety,” Anderson said. “But after we talked about it, we decided that the best spot for me was wide receiver. But I was willing to do whatever they wanted me to do.”
Anderson came right back in 2009 and caught two passes and made five tackles on special teams. Last year he caught two more passes for 34 yards, including his first touchdown, a 28-yard grab against Idaho. He also made seven special teams tackles.
Anderson was right. All of the hard work indeed was about to pay off. After the 2010 season, the Pack coaches didn’t hesitate to name Anderson a starter heading into 2011.
“He paid his dues,” head coach Chris Ault said. “He waited a long time for this.”
Anderson became the starter inside, at the X position in the slot.
“It was his job to lose,” Baumgartner said.
After waiting four years for this opportunity, Anderson wasn’t about to let it slip away.
“They said I was the starter but I didn’t look at it that way,” he said. “I knew I had to keep working hard or else they would give it to somebody else. Coming into the spring I knew anything could happen. And then coming into Fall camp I knew I had to earn it.”
Anderson was exactly what the Pack was looking for at the X position.
“He’s a strong kid, can run, he’s smart, a good route runner and he plays a physical game,” Baumgartner said. “That’s what you need at that position. You have to block linebackers, safeties and sometimes even defensive ends. You have to be a tough, physical guy. That’s a position that has to do a little bit of everything. We knew he had the ability and the desire to do it.”
The position seems to be a perfect fit for Anderson.
“I think being the slot receiver plays to my strengths,” Anderson said. “You really have to have a special teams mentality at that position.”
The week leading up to the Oregon game and his first college start was a bit strange for Anderson.
“It was weird,” he said. “At the start of the week I was a little nervous just thinking about it. But as the week went along, I got less and less nervous. And by the time I hit the field on Saturday, I didn’t have any nerves at all.”
He caught more passes for more yards (five for 48 yards) against Oregon than he caught in his first three seasons (four for 40) at Nevada. Two of his five catches went for a first down and another one of his catches was wiped out because the Pack was called for an illegal formation.
All in all, quarterbacks Tyler Lantrip and Cody Fajardo tossed 11 passes his way, nearly three times as many as he saw in his first three seasons combined.
“He did a real nice job for a guy making his first start,” Ault said. “That was great to see. Shane is one of those kids who you really want to see have a big, big year because he’s worked so hard for a very long time for this.”
Anderson also kept in touch with his Wolf Pack roots on Saturday, playing on the Pack’s kickoff and punt return teams.
“Oh, yeah, definitely,” he smiled. “I have to keep playing special teams. If I didn’t play special teams I would lose my entire identity. Those are my guys on special teams. That’s where I belong. I didn’t want those guys looking at me like I was a prima donna wide receiver or something.”