The Times West Virginian

June 22, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN - The bonding of teammates and the benefits of college

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — In truth, it was the greatest adventure of my life, beginning that day my parents loaded me onto a TWA flight from LaGuardia Airport in New York for St. Louis to begin my college career at the University of Missouri.

You talk about heading off into the unknown, from the metroplex that was New York and northern New Jersey, which had been my home, to Columbia, Mo., a town in those days that was so rural that while parking one dark night on some farmland my date and I were rudely interrupted — and scared to death — when we sensed someone else in our presence.

Breaking off a rather hot kiss, I turned to be eyeball-to-eyeball with the biggest, ugliest cow I had ever seen and, upon turning on our headlights, we discovered we had parked in a field filled with bovines. It was a very mooooooving experience, to say the least.

This, you see, is how it is with a college athlete as he decides to cast his lot with a school 500 or 1,000 or 2,500 miles from home, his life uprooted and completely changed. If he is from Miami one can only guess what Preston County is like when he arrives here and if he is from some small town in Alabama the culture shock is equally as great.

He faces school and football or basketball, each usually a big step up, faces competition he’s never known and a group of peers with whom he must pick and choose his friends while, at the same time, trying to live off by himself for the first time fighting homesickness and wondering how his high school sweetheart is.

This is not to say it is a bad thing. In many cases the journey off to college is lifesaving or, at least, life changing. If you have had a troubled past you get to start over, to leave behind the influences who were dragging you in the wrong direction.

The most recent example of that is Bruce Irvin, who was truly a kid without a future back home in Georgia, a kid who had spent time in jail and who was academically challenged. He changed his life by getting away and today is looking toward a great future as an NFL player.

We mention all this because it is the way it happens so often in college athletics, especially at West Virginia University, the state university in a state that is not blessed with enough Division I athletes to carry it to the top.

Because of that, most West Virginia athletes have to travel off to school to play, taking part in that great adventure. Last February, for example, WVU did not sign one homebred athlete for the first time in half a decade.

Every so often, though, there comes along a player who everyone tells he needs to go off to play football in another state, probably in a lower classification, who says no, that he wants to stay home.

What is it like playing at home, Tyler Anderson, a Morgantown High product who has muscled himself into position to be a starting linebacker this year?

“It’s a lot of fun,” Tyler Anderson answered the other day. “I still hang with a lot of kids back from high school.

Now some of my teammates here hang out with some of the kids that hung with me in high school.”

Instead of having a new group of friends, he simply has broadened his group … friends from home, teammates, college friends.

What’s more, Tyler Anderson has someone right on hand to counsel him.

“It’s great having my family here, my mom and dad and my sisters. I call Morgan and Tia, my sisters, for a lot of stuff. I can rely on them. They are older than I am. I’m the baby.”

He may be the youngest, but at 244 pounds of linebacker muscle, he is hardly a baby.

Anderson admits that he considered some other schools, but it was more for show than anything else.

“I knew I was coming here,” he said.

And he’s glad he made that decision.

“I feel like it’s easier for me. I have more expectations and my mom is really hard on me. She’s always going to be hard on me,” he said.

A coach may yell and scream and make you run extra, but there’s nothing a mother’s look of disapproval to get the message home and that’s something you can’t get if away at school.

There was, as there always is with a freshman, some question whether he could play at the highest caliber but Anderson said he found out in his redshirt freshman year that he had what it took.

“That was when it was J.T. [Thomas], Reed [Williams] and all of those players,” Anderson said. “Those players right there really helped me a lot. They motivated me and they recognized that I could play here and they told me to never stop working. They encouraged me a lot.”

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.