NORMAN, Okla. — Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson couldn’t be much more different than Baker Mayfield.
Mayfield reveled in being the center of attention. The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback was cocky, outspoken and didn’t mind stirring the pot.
Now that Mayfield has moved on to the NFL as the No. 1 overall draft pick, Anderson has assumed Mayfield’s leadership role. Anderson seemingly sneaked into Sunday’s Media Day, and had his presence not been announced, it might have been missed.
Anderson would have been fine with that.
— FOX Sports Oklahoma (@FOXSportsOK) July 16, 2018
“I honestly try to stay out of the limelight,” Anderson said. “I don’t really go a lot of places. I don’t really go out that much at all, really. People recognize me a little bit more, but I don’t really feed into type of thing.”
Anderson is all about action, especially because he suffered a season-ending knee injury two games into the 2015 season and a season-ending neck injury in fall camp in 2016. He didn’t even start until mid-season last year because of two major injuries that slowed him down, but he finished the season with 1,442 yards and 18 touchdowns from scrimmage. In his best game, he had 290 yards and four touchdowns from scrimmage in a regular-season win over TCU.
Those numbers and his demeanor have earned his teammates’ respect. He enters this season as one of the nation’s best players.
“He’s kind of been the guy that’s trying to take the team by storm,” Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray said. “He’s obviously a force in the backfield. He’s built off work ethic. He’s a guy you’re probably not going to beat in the weight room.”
— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) July 22, 2018
Murray got the most attention at Media Day, and the first-round Major League Baseball pick seemed much more comfortable fielding questions than Anderson. But Anderson has the numbers — in his final eight games last season, he had 1,333 yards and 16 touchdowns from scrimmage. At 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, he is a powerhouse with breakaway speed and good enough hands to have grabbed five touchdown receptions last season.
He’ll carry even more of the load this season, both as a player and a leader. He has moved forward since an Oklahoma prosecutor decided against charging him with sexual assault late last year . The Cleveland County District Attorney said that “definitely, charges are not warranted under these circumstances.” Anderson got back to work from there and ran for 201 yards and two touchdowns in Oklahoma’s College Football Playoff loss to Georgia.
“He’s just kind of the classic guy of, you just watch what he does,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “He leads by his actions. I think people notice his actions more now because he has produced on the field and because of some of the things he’s gone through in his life, both on and off the field. I think people notice that and the way he carries himself.”
Anderson isn’t always at a loss for words — his face brightens and he speaks at length about his offensive line. He knows he can’t succeed alone.
“It’s different now,” Riley said. “He’s got to be more vocal in some areas, and he’s done that. I’ll give him credit. For some guys like him, it’s hard to get out of that shell and do that, but I think he’s embraced it, and I think he’s understanding that if he only plays well and doesn’t have the impact that he has to have on the rest of this team, we won’t be good enough.”
Anderson won’t be resting on his accomplishments. The events of the past few years have left him unable to take things for granted.
“I don’t think I can ever be comfortable,” he said. “That’s just me being a competitor. I feel like I’ve always got something I can strive for, something to prove to myself.”