TAMPA ― Bruce Anderson knows he can play in the NFL, and when you watch him, then hear him, there’s plenty of reasons to believe he can live out that dream.
The former Newsome High standout put up gaudy numbers at Football Championship Subdivision power North Dakota State as part of three national championship teams. His film shows a powerful runner who anticipates well, breaks tackles and can get to the outside quickly. He has good hands and can play both ways on special teams. And people around him talk about how he stands out off the field.
The 5-foot-11.5-inch, 210-pound Anderson will watch this week’s NFL draft hoping to hear his name called. He could be a third-day selection, and if he is picked, he’s become Newsome’s first player drafted. But if he goes undrafted, it will just motivate him more to get into an NFL camp.
“If my name is called, my name is called, but if not, I’ll work that much harder,” Anderson said after a recent workout in Tampa.
Few mock drafts go into the sixth and seventh rounds, but that’s where some true treasures lie. And Anderson hopes he’s one.
Having to establish himself is nothing new. His father, Norman, was in the Air Force, which meant moving around a lot. Anderson was born in Germany, moved to Japan and started high school in Northern California. He played his final two high school seasons at Newsome, and received offers from some mid-major schools like Kent State, FAU and Utah State.
Even though Anderson wasn’t highly recruited out of high school, his longtime trainer, Marshall McDuffie, believed then that Anderson owned the intangibles to make it in the NFL.
“His size, his ability and his approach to the game are excellent,” said McDuffie, a Durant High grad and former three-sport athlete at Florida International who was in Bucs camp in 2009 before playing in the UFL. “It was never a situation where I had to beg him to do something. There was never a moment where I had to give him extra motivation to do something. He’s always had that innate desire to grind and be the best. That could be contributed to the fact that he’s always had to prove himself.”
NDSU was one of the only schools to recruit Anderson as a running back,. Initially, he played only special teams a freshman, but the return game allowed him to show his athleticism, and by the end of the season, he was earning carries at running back, and fans in Fargo began chanting “Bruuuuuuce” when he touched the ball.
Anderson drew notice during a strong junior year that saw him compile nearly 1,400 total yards, his notoriety peaking after a five-touchdown game against Sam Houston State in the FCS semifinal. He shared carries as a senior and missed two games with a hamstring injury.
Anderson was invited to the Senior Bowl, but didn’t play after aggravating the hamstring during practice. That was a setback, because he wasn’t able to perform on a national stage. He didn’t receive an invite to he scouting combine.
He’s been spending the offseason training at D1 Training in West Tampa, a facility that prides itself in training underexposed prospects.
In fact, his work preparing for the draft reminds D1 owner Taylor Scott of another little known running back who came through his program, former Nature Coach Tech running back Matt Breida.
Two years ago, Breida signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent out of Georgia Southern and had a breakout season last year with 1,075 all-purpose yards.
“Bruce reminds me a lot of him, he’s just a little bit bigger,” said Scott, a former pro player in the CFL. “He’s got such a strong fast-twitch base. He’s an extremely powerful individual. He just had this natural violent movement in him. Whatever his eyes see, his body automatically does, which makes him extremely coachable.”
“I can see him being like a Breida, a guy who might sneak up on people, but they are going to say, ‘We want him in our franchise for the next 10 years,’ and that’s what I love about him.”
Anderson didn’t have an opportunity to be showcased until NDSU’s pro day in front of more than 20 NFL teams, including the Bucs, in late March. That allowed him time to get healthy and stronger, and he performed well.
Anderson ran a 4.58 40-yard dash time at his pro day, which would have ranked him 13th of the 24 running backs who ran at the combine. He bench pressed 225 pounds 22 times, which would have set him tied for six among the 25 running backs who participated. He also performed well as a pass catcher, running a variety of routes out of the backfield.
Anderson, who is represented by Glen Lansky of Elite Sports Agency in Tampa, also participated at the Bucs‘ local pro day earlier this month. He has visited with the Rams and Jaguars.
One thing that stands out about Anderson is running style. He has a good combination of power and speed, but he also reads plays well, sometimes putting his hand on the back of his blocker while anticipating his route.
“It’s just a feel for the game,” Anderson said. "The more tape you watch and the more understanding you have of football, you kind of know where your guy is going to go. You have a better feel for them the longer you play with somebody. Understanding that feel for the game and kind of being able to slow things down and being more patient is good.
"I feel like if you're trying to rush or have that kind of flow for the game, you're just going to be kind of frantic out there running like a deer in headlights. But once you kind of let everything settle down kind of focus, you're able to have that feel for the game and everything slows down."
Anderson is taking the draft with a realistic approach. He could get drafted, but he also might have to go the free-agent route. Regardless, he will have to prove himself all over again, which likely means showing his worth on special teams and working his way up from there, just like he did at North Dakota State.
“I think that’s going to be the upside of me," Anderson said. "Because if you have a 53-man roster and I’m able to play special teams and catch the ball out of the backfield and run the ball, I’m taking less space, so I can be used in situations other guys can’t and that gives me more of an opportunity to stay on a roster.”
Said McDuffie: “What gives him the edge is that underdog mentality. But you really can’t even really call it an underdog, because statistically, he’s a monster. He’s done great things. He’s won national championships. He’s going to take whatever’s given and take that opportunity and excel to the hundredth power.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.