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August 17, 2011

Anderson excels as a walk-on

It didn't matter that Trey Anderson was a championship-winning quarterback at the highest level of football in one of the best most competitive states in the nation. According to college coaches, he wasn't big enough.

Or something like that.

"There were actually about six D-I colleges that had been talking to me throughout the year, and I seemed to be their guy; I guess things just didn't work out," Anderson told Panther-Lair.com. "But I'm blessed because it made me come here."

"Here" is the University of Pittsburgh, where Anderson is a walk-on freshman quarterback and, as of Tuesday afternoon, the team's backup signal-caller behind redshirt junior Tino Sunseri.

Anderson arrived in Pittsburgh approximately 48 hours before the first practice of training camp last week, flying in from his home in Pearland, Texas. His decision to attend Pitt had only a slightly more-developed origin.

After completing a state championship-winning senior season at Pearland but not having any opportunities to play football at the FBS level, Anderson planned to enroll in the one-year program at Tyler Junior College. But over the summer he received a call from Pitt quarterbacks coach Todd Dodge, who wanted to see if Anderson would be interested in joining the Panthers as a walk-on.

"I visited about three weeks ago, and they showed me just about everything you could see in two days," Anderson said. "I fell in love with the facilities, all the coaches, the town; I really just love everything about it. I knew it was a good fit for me."
Dodge first came into contact with Anderson in 2010 when he was the head coach at the University of North Texas. But when Dodge was fired by North Texas in October of 2010, the interest from the school presumably went with him.

But Dodge never forgot about Anderson; in fact, he was in attendance for Pearland's 28-24 win over Euless Trinity in the Texas Class 5A state championship game held at Cowboys Stadium last December. A month later, Dodge was hired as the quarterbacks coach at Pitt, and he remembered the player who led Pearland to a state title.

"I said, that's the best situation I got, so let's go for it," Anderson said. "I knew with the offense that I could come in and compete, and I felt like it was the best fit for me."

That meant forgoing the year at junior college, which could have attracted interest from FBS programs that might have been intrigued enough to offer him a scholarship, in favor of walking on at Pitt. But Anderson was confident that he could perform well enough to earn a scholarship from the Panthers.

The coaches haven't crossed that bridge yet, but Anderson's performance thus far certainly hasn't dissuaded them.

"He's still not a very big kid, but in our offense, if they're six-feet tall and they have the skill set for what we do, then we don't really care about that," Dodge said Tuesday.

"He is exceeding expectations from the standpoint of making the game slow down for himself as a young player. He has tremendous intangibles, a lot of moxie, a lot of 'keep-the-play-alive' ability. He's nothing to write home about yet, but we've been really pleased. And I think he has gained some respect, even from his older teammates, in a very short time."

Anderson is listed on Pitt's roster at six-feet tall and 180 pounds, but in his junior year, he was about three inches shorter than that. He had a decent season as a junior in 2009, throwing for 1,755 yards and 14 touchdowns. But he came into his own as a senior, with 2,898 yards and 25 touchdowns passing and 442 yards and six touchdowns rushing.

Pearland went undefeated last season en route to the state championship, and Anderson led the charge. In the quarterfinal matchup against traditional Texas powerhouse Katy - a game played in front of more than 41,000 fans - Anderson completed 19-of-33 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning score of a 38-35 victory that went down to the wire.

The next week he made plays with his legs, rushing for 116 yards and a 46-yard touchdown in a 51-21 win over Stevens. And in the state title game at Cowboys Stadium - with 43,000-plus in the stands - Anderson completed 17-of-23 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown to lead Pearland to its 28-24 victory over Euless Trinity.

Anderson finished as the all-time record-holder at Pearland for career and single-season passing yards and career and single-season passing touchdowns.

"He's a winner," Pitt head coach Todd Graham said. "I expected him to come in and be a good player, but his maturity as a freshman is what has really surprised me more than anything. He's un-wavered by big-time college football; he's running it just like he did at Pearland, Texas.

"I'm very, very impressed with him. He's competing and he's going to be a good one for us. To have a walk-on come in and compete like that is impressive, and he has been, I would say, out of the whole camp, the one that's impressed me the most."

Despite his size, Anderson has shown impressive arm strength to complement better-than-expected athleticism. Most of all, he has displayed an awareness of the offense and what is expected on each play, which is even more impressive considering the crash course he had to take in learning Pitt's system.

"The first day I learned about the offense was the first day of camp," he said. "So I've had eight days' experience in the offense. I've always been a quick learner, always listening and learning as much as I possibly can. Plus, this coaching staff is great.

"The high-octane, the tempo, we did a lot of that in high school. We had a lot of the same exact plays. The only difference is the terminology, but once you get that down, my athletic ability and the high school experience just takes over."

The result of Anderson's impressive performance has been that he was running second-team behind Sunseri in the three practices since Pitt's scrimmage on Sunday. And that's exactly what Dodge encouraged him to do, just like Dodge encouraged a diminutive quarterback he coached at Southlake Carroll High School in the early 2000's.

"I told Trey, don't come in here with a walk-on, redshirt attitude. Just come in and be who you are and compete. It's the same thing I told Chase Daniel when he went to Missouri: don't plan on redshirting. Compete. Let the coaches figure it out.

"So right now, he's probably getting a lot more reps than he ever would have thought. But the bottom line is, he has earned them."

Anderson took Dodge's advice to heart.

"Honestly, I just came into this with an open mind, just going in and trying to compete," Anderson said. "I'm not worried about what everybody else is doing; I'm just trying to be the best that I can be and continue to progress every day. That's all I'm here for."




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