Former Alabama linebacker Eryk Anders has played football in a lot of different places during his football career, but he said nothing compares to the passion fans have in the state of Alabama.
Anders will take the opportunity to thank the Alabama fans when he comes to Fort Payne on Friday to take part in the Christmas parade and then sign autographs at the Jamie Gray Insurance Agency afterward.
Anders would know what a passionate fan base looks like with his resume. He was a star high school player at Smithson Valley High School in Texas before playing at the University of Alabama, where he was a part of the 2009 national championship team. After college he attended training camp with the Cleveland Browns and then had stops in the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League before hanging up his cleats.
None of the places he played really compare to what he was a part of in Tuscaloosa.
“You just can’t say enough about the people of Alabama and the Alabama fans, because they care about the person and not just the player and the plays he’s made,” Anders said. “The people of Fort Payne are always very gracious to me every time I come up there and I really love the people in northern Alabama. Any chance I get to come up there I don’t pass it up.”
He finished his senior season in 2009 with 44 solo tackles, eight tackles for loss and four sacks in 14 games for the Crimson Tide.
“I have countless memories,” Anders said on his time playing for the Crimson Tide. “It was an honor to be a part of a school that has such great tradition. Even years after you get done playing people still remember the plays that you made. I’ve got friends from other Division-I schools, and they don’t get that same kind of love we get.”
He said his most memorable game of his career came in his final game at the 2010 Rose Bowl in the BCS National Championship game against his home-state school — the University of Texas.
He grew up 90 miles away from Austin, but his All-State career that set the school record for most tackles and tackles for a loss in high school weren’t good enough for the Longhorn coaches to offer him a scholarship.
He showed them what they missed in the championship game by finishing with six solo tackles, and he forced Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert to fumble late in the fourth quarter to seal the game and Alabama’s first national championship since 1992.
“It was a very special game for me,” Anders said. “It was the first game in a long time that I was 100 percent healthy and ready to go, and I think my play reflected that. Plus, it was against Texas, and I grew up 90 miles away from Austin and they didn’t even give me a look, so I definitely played with a chip on my shoulder in that game, and I’m glad it ended the way it ended.”
Once his time was up at Alabama and his journey in the professional ranks was over, Anders had a void to fill.
He was used to the football schedule of training and competing on a daily basis.
In 2012 he found something to fill that void, which was mixed martial arts (MMA).
MMA helped provide him with the sense of competition the he had been missing.
“I walked away from football and I was bored, really,” Anders said. “In 2012 I walked into a gym and started training and fell in love with it. I’ve been involved in MMA ever since. I do that as much as possible. I’m a competitor, and football left a void.”
Looking back on his career at Alabama, Anders takes a lot of pride in the foundation he and his teammates laid for the Alabama football program.
Since 2009 the Crimson Tide has won two national championships and has a chance at a third this year, earning the top spot in the first College Football Playoff.
“Me and all the guys on my team have a big sense of accomplishment that we were able to bring a championship back to Alabama,” Anders said. “We kind of started a dynasty that’s been great ever since.”
The parade will start at 6 p.m. on Friday, and Anders will be riding in the Jamie Gray Insurance car.
Immediately following the parade, he will go to the autograph signing at Jamie Gray Insurance Agency.
Autographs will be $10; photos will be provided, but fans can bring their own memorabilia.