One of the hardest things for any athlete to do -- on any level -- is replace a player considered one of the greatest. 2015 running back Jess Anders (Aledo, Texas/Aledo) takes that challenge with determination and humility.
While splitting carries with senior Caleb Frysinger, Anders will look to carry the load that Johnathan Gray once supported for Aledo’s ground game. Gray, a former Under Armour All-America and the 2011 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year who now is a freshman at Texas, rushed for 10,908 yards and scored a national-record 205 touchdowns during his high school career.
To some, comparing Anders to Gray is unfair -- even though both were varsity players as freshmen. To Anders, his mission is to show that he can get the job done in the backfield. Anders leads a rush-by-committee attack at Aledo with 259 yards and four touchdowns. The sophomore is averaging nearly eight yards per carry.
“Last year, getting to go in as a freshman really opened my eyes a lot,” said Anders, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound running back. “It helped me mature a little more learning behind [Gray]. When I touched the ball at beginning of season, I felt so much more comfortable.”
Anders had a chance to speak with Gray recently, as Gray returned to Aledo to spend time with family and also take in a school volleyball game. Anders said the two talked about football, but another message managed to dominate the conversation.
“As a running, he doesn’t give much advice,” Anders said of Gray, “but as a person, he says to keep your attitude up. He likes to talk more about off-the-field stuff. That’s the kind of guy he is, though.”
Anders is still somewhat green in the recruiting game, but he has received early correspondence from Oregon. As he works to attract more schools, Anders said he will continue playing with a no-fear attitude -- the same kind of attitude Gray had on the field.
“My game is all out whenever I step on the field,” Anders said. “I’m not a big back, but when I’m on the field, I try to do whatever I can. I have no intimidation. I’ve always been one to never let anyone bigger than me try to take me down.”