Anderson, Northwestern named top dogs in the Big Ten conference

Anthony Maggio

CHICAGO – A week after having its defense completely broken down by Antwaan Randle El in a 51-43 loss to Indiana, Minnesota had its nightmare recur on Homecoming weekend thanks to Damien Anderson.

The Northwestern running back slashed through the Gophers defense for 230 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the 41-35 Wildcats win. Randle El and Anderson were the only two players to rush for over 200 yards in a game versus Minnesota last season.

Anderson went on to earn numerous All-America honors and was named preseason Big Ten offensive player of the year last week.

No matter what awards he receives, Anderson attributes all of his accolades to those around him, especially Northwestern head coach Randy Walker and his in-your-face approach.

“I think that’s definitely been instrumental in my success,” Anderson said. “Coach helps me be an All-American, he helps me be a Heisman Trophy candidate. Without him and my family and my teammates, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in.”

Along with the high individual expectations, Anderson’s team was chosen to finish first in the Big Ten this season.

“Being predicted to finish first doesn’t dictate our play and the success that we hope to have next year,” Anderson said. “We understand predictions aren’t always necessarily right. They had us coming in last a year ago. Right now we’re just focused on playing hard because that’s how we have our success.”

Although Anderson is focused on team goals, his individual success will be a major factor in propelling his team back to the top of the Big Ten standings.

Last season, Anderson helped his team turn a 3-8 record in 1999 into an 8-4 record. Anderson set Northwestern’s single-season records for rushing (2,063 yards), yards per game (171.9), points (138), touchdowns (23) and all-purpose yards (2,195).

Anderson finished fifth in voting for the Heisman Trophy in 2000 and is the leading vote-getter of returning athletes.

“You’re basically in contention for one of the best athletes in college football,” Anderson said. “But I think it would mean a lot more to me when it’s game 10 and I’m in contention as a Heisman Trophy candidate.”

Also contributing to Anderson’s success was the emergence of Zak Kustok as a prolific passer for the Wildcats. Kustok opened up the field for Anderson, allowing his breakout season.

“I always knew Damien was pretty good,” Walker said. “He was pretty good the year before. I saw the improvement in Zak and I thought if we could get where we were balanced … to take a little heat off of Damien – and I saw that taking place.

“I would love for defenses to be preoccupied with Zak, because we’ve got Damien.”

The spotlight might be aimed solely on him, but Anderson remains focused on achieving the goals of the team first.

“We know that as long as we continue to play hard and work at what we do, success will happen,” Anderson said. “That’s the only thing we can control, playing hard. That’s how we’ve got our success, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”


Anthony Maggio welcomes comments at [email protected]