Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Get to Know the Players: Lakeland Raiders' Travis Anderson

If you look in the UIFL record book, you will see Easter Kentucky's Maurice Douse listed as the most prolific runner in the league. In seven games last season, Douse ran for a total of 191 yards. Which is all well and good, until you consider the Lakeland Raiders Travis Anderson and his 296 rushing yards. Anderson's total rushing yards eclipsed the next closest Running Back by over 100 yards. His 13 rushing touchdowns were second in the league and his 74 rushing yards per game was absolutely off the charts. But because Anderson suffered a serious injury that cost him more than half the season, he did not play the requisite six games and is ineligible for the UIFL record book.
In a league known for passing, Anderson managed the nearly impossible, in large part because Lakeland Raiders Head Coach Mike Mink's philosophy strays from the norm.
"I like running the ball in Indoor (football). My backs typically are among the league leaders on my teams." In 2012, Anderson's ground performance was so far above the "league leaders" that he practically deserved his own category.
Anderson grew up in nearby Avon Park. He tried his hand at peewee football but his career lasted just one game before his parents pulled him out in order to keep young Travis focused on his schoolwork. It wouldn't be until his Sophomore year in High School until Anderson had another chance to play organized football. As a rookie, Anderson was forced to sit behind older Running Backs on his team until an injury opened up an opportunity, an opportunity that Anderson did not let go to waste. He scored the game winning touchdown in his first action at RB and became the starter from that day onward.
Eligibility issues following multiple transfers limited the amount of action that Anderson saw in college. When he did get to play, the coach shifted him to Fullback from his more natural Running Back position. "The Fullback has to take on a lot of pass blocking, lead blocking responsibility," Anderson explains. "In high school I didn't have to block much. The Fullback blocks more than he runs."
Asked whether he feared being put in a similar block-first, run-occasionally position on the Lakeland Raiders, Anderson expressed confidence in his coach's play calling and his own ability.
"Any time Coach Mink gave me an opportunity I was going to make the most of it and give it my best," he says. "I felt that there's always room for talent. Your talent is going to speak out for you. There is room for a Running Back in the arena."
Just a month after achieving his goal of playing professional football, Travis went down during a routine practice, sidelining him for five weeks. "We lost Travis the night before a critical game against the Tarpons during walk through," recalls Coach Mink. "It was a freak accident but was major set back."
Anderson spent the down time working feverishly to return in time for the playoffs. "I got up at 3 or 4 AM and I got to work on the treadmill," Travis says of his rehab time. "I was almost in tears because of the pain but I had to suck it up. I returned to the field at about 85%. I had to be a man, not a mouse, and take one for the team." Coach Mink remembers Travis' work ethic as he rehabbed from injury. "Travis is a solid young man who works hard as anyone in the gym. He is a fierce competitor."
Now, eight months removed from injury, Anderson says he is "100% and ready to go." Like everyone you talk to around the Raiders office at the Lakeland Center, Travis has high expectations for the team in 2013. "I want a championship. We signed (QB) BJ (Hall). I think our chemistry is going to be awesome. We're already working as a team. Everyone is dedicated and hungry for a championship."
His personal goals are no less lofty than his hopes for the team overall. "I am ready to carry the load at Running Back," he says. "I want to have a breakout year, to open the eyes of some scouts. I'm trying to make a statement to the NFL. I am ready to go to the next level after this year."
As for the team's nemesis, the Florida Tarpons, Anderson thinks they may be surprised when come to town in 2013. "The Tarpons are a great team but this year it will be a whole lot more challenging for them. All the recruits we picked up - the QB, the DBs - we've got the talent this year."
The fans can expect great things from Anderson and the Raiders in 2013. "We're going to make Lakeland proud, make the fans happy," Anderson says. Foremost among the many Travis Anderson fans in the community are his wife, Sherlonda, and the couple's three young children. "I'm dedicating this year to the fans and to my family and supporters."
In the offseason, Anderson is a Paraeducator for Ridge Community High School where he also serves as a trainer and mentor for the school's athletes. "I'm like a role model for those guys," he says of the Ridge Community football team. "They look at me and think "˜I do have a chance'". His advice to aspiring athletes? "Stay humble. Good will come to the person who stays humble."
Somehow between a full-time job, a family that includes a newborn baby at home, keeping in shape, and playing professional football, Anderson finds time for what he calls his "second passion" (football being first, of course) - playing drums. It is an art Travis has been honing since he was seven years old. Currently, he plays on the praise team at Trinity Worship Center in Haines City where his brother, Clinton Anderson, serves as Minister of Music.

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