He had success in college with Michigan State and LSU, but the National Football League wasn’t kind to Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban. His exit from Miami, Fla., to Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2007 was both exciting and perplexing. Crimson Tide fans rejoiced, as they knew a change was about to take place. Alabama hadn’t won a national championship since 1992, and Saban was told many times that it could take six years before he would win his first.
A renewed mountaintop experience is what Alabama wanted. The players needed a coach that could make winning a reality, while Saban needed a team that could place him a top the pinnacle of college football. Alabama’s 2008 recruiting class is credited with starting a championship mindset under Saban, but it was a Mike Shula recruit that made the biggest play in Saban’s third year with the Crimson Tide. The recruit was former linebacker Eryk Anders.
Anders enrolled at Alabama in 2006, and saw action in eight games as a freshman. He was primarily used on special teams, yet he made his presence felt with four tackles. Anders played in 10 games as a sophomore (2007), but he emerged as a dynamic pass rusher in 2008.
Anders served as a backup jack linebacker, and totaled 24 tackles (14 solo), 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and seven quarterback hurries in his junior season.
His seven quarterback hurries tied him for the team lead. Anders was consistent on third down, as he aggravated opposing quarterbacks with pressure from all angles. Alabama’s defense allowed 14.3 points per game in 2008. It finished the season with a 12-2 record.
Anders earned the starting job at jack linebacker in 2009. Alabama’s defense was tough mentality and physically with Anders, Rolando McClain, Corey Reamer and Courtney Upshaw.
Anders played in all 14 games during his senior year, and finished fourth on the team in tackles with 44. He chimed in with eight tackles for loss and four sacks. His four sacks were good for second on the team. The Crimson Tide finished second nationally in scoring defense, allowing 11.7 points per game. It finished the 2009 regular season undefeated.
Anders helped Alabama secure a Southeastern Conference title in 2009, but his defining moment came in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., would be packed on Jan. 7, 2010, as Alabama faced the Texas Longhorns.
The Crimson Tide took a 24-6 lead into halftime, but the Longhorns wouldn’t go away. Backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert guided Texas to 15 points in the second half. The Longhorns trailed Alabama 24-21 in the fourth quarter, and was one drive away from shocking the world.
Anders’s impact play came with 3:14 left on the clock.
Texas had the ball on its 17-yard line, when Anders sacked Gilbert and stripped the ball from him. Courtney Upshaw recovered the ball on the 3-yard line, and running back Mark Ingram cashed in on the opportunity. Alabama would win the game 37-21, and capture its first national title under Saban. Anders’s strip sack of Gilbert secured immortality for the Crimson Tide.
He finished his career with 76 tackles, 12.5 stops for loss and 6.5 sacks at Alabama.
Anders, 28, is currently a mixed martial arts fighter. The 6-foot, 230-pound Anders has compiled an 8-3-1 record as an amateur. He fights with aggression, and is learning how to use his athleticism in the ring. MMA has more angles and strategies than football, but Anders is ready to take his career to a professional level.
As individuals reflect back on the 2009 season, some recall plays made by Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Rolando McClain and others, but the biggest play on the biggest stage was made by a Shula recruit and a national champion turned MMA fighter.
Stephen M. Smith is a staff writer and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine, Pick Six Previews and SB Nation. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.