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Disgraced football star seeks redemption through memoir

Hillsborough High running back Jamall Anderson breaks a tackle on his way to a first-quarter touchdown in an Oct., 22, 1994, game against Gaither High. Anderson, who later transferred to Jefferson High, played at Boston College until he was sidelined in a gambling scandal.
Hillsborough High running back Jamall Anderson breaks a tackle on his way to a first-quarter touchdown in an Oct., 22, 1994, game against Gaither High. Anderson, who later transferred to Jefferson High, played at Boston College until he was sidelined in a gambling scandal.
Published Dec. 9, 2016

Two decades after he played in his final competitive football game, Jamall Anderson still loves to rattle off his highlights.

Yards per carry as a senior running back for Hillsborough High, 8.6. First collegiate touchdown with Boston College, a goal-line carry against Syracuse during his freshman season in 1995.

Anderson also discusses his failures openly.

The first football game he wagered on, University of Mississippi vs. University of Tennessee in 1996. He bet on Tennessee and won $50. His mom's reaction, sobs, when she learned the same year that he'd been kicked off the Boston College team for betting against it.

"Now is the perfect time to tell this story," said Anderson, 40. "I am finally at a place where I can talk about all this in an honest and comfortable way."

The former Tampa football star whose gambling scandal made him the poster boy for an athlete's fall from grace has penned a book, The Best Bet, chronicling his dark journey and the lessons to be learned from it.

A book launch is scheduled 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, at Tre Amici @ The Bunker, 1907 N 19th St. in Ybor City.

"This is about choices, consequences," said Anderson, who lives in Tampa, "and how things spun out of control for me."

Anderson once seemed destined for the NFL, a future role model for kids.

"I didn't get into trouble. I grew up in the church and starting preaching at an early thing. One of my nicknames was Baby Jesus. I was squeaky clean."

On the football field, he was a power.

Ernest Hooper, the Tampa Bay Times columnist who co-authored The Best Bet and covered Anderson as a prep sports writer in the 1990s, said the running back's local fame even pre-dated high school.

"There used to be teams that played against each other in middle school," Hooper said. "He was a big star then. I don't recall in my many years someone being as touted before they even got into high school."

Anderson lived up to the hype. During his senior year in 1994 he earned first-team, All-State honors, rushing for nearly 1,500 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Though his play was limited during his freshman year at Boston College, Anderson showed flashes of star power and seemed to have a bright future there.

Then, before his sophomore season, he injured his knee, sidelining him for the first time since he took up the game.

With a competitive void to fill, he turned to sports betting.

"It gave me that rush. I never thought it would lead to where it did."

Following an investigation, Anderson and 12 other players were suspended by the school for gambling on sports. He was one of two who bet against Boston College and one of six kicked off the team.

It didn't matter he wasn't on the active roster when he bet that Syracuse would cover the spread against Boston College.

The betting on the Oct. 26, 1996, game was condemned as the biggest gambling scandal in college football history.

He returned to Tampa humiliated and disgraced, but knowing he had disappointed his parents was the hardest part.

"He was a junior preacher," co-writer Hooper said. "This was a young man raised to believe in the Bible. He realized the pain he brought to his family."

Anderson denied for years that he bet against his own team.

Eventually, he came clean to family and friends.

The new book is the first time he will admit the full extent of his wrongdoing to a national audience.

It's difficult, Anderson said, but he rationalizes that while he may never have made it to the NFL, he can still have a positive influence on children.

"I want this to be a warning and a way for people to understand how easy it can be to go off the deep end. I want to help kids not make the same mistakes I did."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3320. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.