Nov. 19, 2016
By John Heisler
He doesn’t boast 1,677 rushing yards. Those are Tarean Folston’s career numbers.
He hasn’t made 159 tackles. That’s what Irish captain Isaac Rochell has contributed.
He didn’t intercept eight passes. That’s what Cole Luke has done in his University of Notre Dame football career.
He hasn’t started 36 games like Rochell and Luke have. In fact, he hasn’t started any.
But don’t think Josh Anderson’s contributions to Irish football have been any less impactful than any of the other 27 seniors who run out of the Notre Dame Stadium tunnel today—most for the last time.
Anderson is a reserve running back for the Irish. He has participated mainly as a scout team running back. His Irish career statistical resume features two rushing attempts in 2015 against Texas (one for minus-one yard, one for one yard) and one carry in 2016 versus Nevada (for four yards).
But that’s actually only the beginning for the 5-9, 205-pound Chatsworth, California product.
Anderson is in his fifth season with the Notre Dame football team. He spent his first three years as a walk-on, then was awarded a scholarship just prior to the 2015 season. That moment—Anderson calls it the highlight of his life—was greatly promoted by a video that went viral.
He graduated last May with a pre-professional degree from the College of Science and he’s currently studying for a master’s degree in global health (he’ll be finished with that at the end of the summer of 2017). While some Irish players may be thinking about future professional aspirations, Anderson is thinking about his May trip to Ethiopia where he will do research for his global health capstone project.
Then medical school applications are the next step on Anderson’s journey. He’s currently leaning toward working to become a family medicine physician. “I want to work in underserved communities,” he says. “That’s kind of my passion.”
Irish running back coach Autry Denson has great respect for Anderson, probably in part because he has remained friends with plenty of his own former Notre Dame teammates who played roles identical to Anderson’s.
In Denson’s eyes, in the Irish running backs room, Anderson is the equal of Josh Adams or Folston or Dexter Williams. Anderson may wish he were an inch or two taller or a step or two faster—yet none of that matters to Denson:
“Those guys are the lifeblood of your program. I have so much admiration and respect for them. I go out of my way to let those guys know how much I appreciate their effort. There’s a reward that is very tangible for some of those guys—but for Josh and the Ross brothers (walk-on running backs Austin and Bailey)? They do it for the love—they do it strictly on faith.
“Josh took (former Irish running back) Greg Bryant’s death (last May) really hard because Josh spent more time than anyone with him being transparent. He would tell him, “You have the talent I wish I had. You have the opportunity.’ A lot of guys wouldn’t do that because they wish they had that talent instead.
“If there’s something going on in that room, Josh will pull guys aside. They are just brothers in that room. Everyone has a voice. Josh Anderson can call out Josh Adams, and Josh Adams will respond because he respects Josh (Anderson).
“We have something on our wall called RBDNA. I measure the growth in our room based on the growth of the Josh Andersons. All it takes is watching how he does things and how he handles things—that’s where the respect comes. He’s selfless—he knows our system like the back of his hand. Tony Jones Jr. is a freshman and one of the guys who has spent the most time with him is Josh.
“When people look at a Notre Dame running back, they should see a relentless approach. Take the number off the back of the uniform and you shouldn’t be able to tell whether it’s Josh Adams or Josh Anderson. They want to do their best in games, not to get Josh Adams 100 yards or to get Tarean 100 yards but to get Josh Anderson in the game.
“They play for each other. They’ve earned that right. Josh may not have their talent, but he’ll outwork anyone.”
Actually, this is Anderson’s second time running out of the tunnel with the seniors—he did it also in 2015, not knowing if he would be approved for a fifth year in 2016.
“Being able to play football at Notre Dame has taught me so much about life in general,” says Anderson. “About hard work and about perseverance. Those skills I’ve learned playing football and the rigor of the academics—those things are going to prepare me for life.”
Anderson has a boatful of memories of late nights spent studying:
“Sometimes it’s football season and you don’t do as well on a test as you think you should, but you keep the faith and keep working.”
Anderson’s family is in the stands today, including his father Joe, a 1973 Notre Dame graduate (Josh also graduated from Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California).
“I know I’ll be emotional,” Josh says.
“I was emotional last year when I was unsure if I was coming back.
“Now I know this is the last time running out there.
“The walk to the stadium will be the same way.”
And, maybe the ultimate compliment?
Says Anderson, “I have a lot of confidence going into what’s next and that’s because of Notre Dame.”