Former Alabama linebacker Eryk Anders was a crucial piece in the team’s 2009 championship season. He was a part of a renewed mountaintop experience for Alabama under head coach Nick Saban. Anders posted 76 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in four seasons (2006-09) at Tuscaloosa. At 28 years old, Anders is now a mixed martial arts fighter in California, who is preparing to take his career professional.
Yours truly of Touchdown Alabama Magazine caught up with Anders this week to discuss his success at Alabama, his strip sack of Texas’s quarterback Garrett Gilbert, his time with head coach Nick Saban and his new endeavor as an MMA fighter.
TDA: Which schools recruited you to play football?
EA: Alabama, Ole Miss, Texas Tech and Memphis
TDA: Many players have a special routine, prior to game time. What was yours? Did it involve superstitions?
EA: Ha. I’m not really a rah rah type guy or superstitious type person. Before a game, I would just make sure that I was nice and loose and had a good sweat going. After that I was good to go.
TDA: You got the chance to experience head coach Nick Saban for three seasons (2007-09). What was he like off the field, as opposed to being on it?
EA: It’s unfortunate that the general public probably won’t ever get to experience how Nick Saban is when he is not coaching or in a press conference. Before team meeting, he would be in the room cracking jokes or as he runs by a player on the practice field in between drills he would mutter something that had everyone laughing.
TDA: The 2009 season witnessed Alabama put everything together. What were some of your favorite moments/games from the championship year?
EA: The best moment of the season to me was beating FLA because they beat us the year before, and we just had a sick taste in our mouth for 365 days. It just felt so good to beat Tim Tebow under the exact same circumstances as the year before. Also, beating Texas was huge for me personally because I am from there.
TDA: Rolando McClain and Courtney Upshaw are currently in the NFL. The three of you brought mental and physical toughness to Alabama’s defense. What were McClain and Upshaw like on and off the field?
EA: Courtney and Rolando couldn’t be more opposite people. Rolando is very outspoken, while Courtney is quite as a church mouse. However, they play with the same level of intensity and can both lay that lumber on the field.
TDA: Take me through the strip sack you caused on Texas’s backup QB Garrett Gilbert in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game. What was the defensive play call? What were your emotions like after the play ended?
EA: The play that was ran against Texas was an audible based off the formation. I actually did not think we were going to run it right because we had a hard time getting the defensive line set up, but it worked out beautifully. I kinda had a delayed reaction because after I hit him, I looked up and the ball was loose and it wasn’t until Upshaw recovered that I realize that the game is probably over. I just felt overwhelmed with excitement, which for me is a big deal because I’m a pretty emotionally numb person.
TDA: Alabama has missed an opportunity to play for a national title in the last two seasons. Does consistently winning generate a sense of entitlement? If so, how can Saban and company break that in the future?
EA: I feel like they’ve struggled with the defensive backfield and leadership. It is not a sense of entitlement. Guys with unique leadership abilities like Rolando McClain only come around every few generations.
TDA: What made you take on the endeavor of mixed martial arts? How did playing football at Alabama prepare you?
EA: After I decided to hang up the pads, I just felt this empty void in my life that needed to be filled with something active and competitive. It’s just in my blood to compete, so I ran into Walt Harris who is a fighter and he told me to come by the gym. I did, and he beat me up, literally beat me up. And ever since then I was hooked and felt I needed to challenge myself.
Stephen M. Smith is a staff writer and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine, Pick Six Previews and SB Nation. You can “like” on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.