Jeremy Harper: Monster Invasion – Blake Anderson Arrives in NLR


Tommy is a very large man. As an offensive lineman for Larry Lacewell’s Indians, he used his size to serve opposing defenses generous helpings of turf. But on this night in North Little Rock, he’s not looking to pancake defensive lineman at Cregeen’s Pub. He’s looking to shake hands with A-State’s new football head coach, Blake Anderson.

“I like what this guy stands for,” says Tommy, his voice as deep as a freshwater well. “Faith, family, and football. I hear good things.” I agree with Tommy, and not just because he could squeeze my head like a grape. Good things really can be said about Coach Anderson, whose unconventional character was put on display a month earlier at the Red Wolves Spring Game – or the Monster Mash, as it was unofficially titled, a tribute to Coach Anderson’s recruiting mantra “Build a Monster.”

“He’s late,” mutters Tommy, who takes a very dim view to tardiness. North Little Rock is the third stop on the A-State Spring Caravan, an all-star tour of growing fan bases. Already, Coach Anderson had visited Memphis and Fayetteville, the latter of which solicits a few chuckles from Tommy and me. Just another notch in the growing legend of Coach Blake Anderson.

Suddenly, the pub’s door bursts open, and Blake Anderson & Company stroll in like sailors on leave. The crowd, all decked in some form of scarlet and black, turn their attention to the sandy-haired, ruddy-cheeked man who’s already pumping hands and slapping backs.

“I’m going go talk to him,” says Tommy, and he bulls forward, displacing people to his left and right.

A-State’s former head football coach, Bryan Harsin, carried himself in public like a star quarterback – confident and unapproachable. Coach Anderson has the look of a good neighbor who will not only help you build a deck, but will likely do most the work himself. He spends the next twenty minutes answering the same questions he’s answered since the Caravan landed in Memphis.

I extend my hand and he says he remembers me. I thank him for participating in the Caravan, and I attempt to get him to say something salacious about the trip to Fayetteville. He’s not having it.

“Good people up there!” says Anderson, his voice like cannon fire. “We had a good turn out!”

It’s true about the turnout, contextually speaking. I expected about 20 hard-nosed Red Wolves fans to show, but the event hosted 70. In the heart of Razorback territory, this is a success. Anderson is an unknown quantity in SEC circles. Formerly of Middle Tennessee, Southern Miss, and North Carolina, Anderson hasn’t the local cache of Malzahn or the geographic familiarity of Harsin, who coached at Texas. Anderson has only his reputation as an exciting playmaker and his charming approach to the fan base.

For example, the Spring Game Coach Auction was a master stroke of off-season PR. The stunt raised $11,700 for the Red Wolves Foundation. But most importantly, it raised national awareness for A-State. The auction was Anderson’s idea.

On this night, Anderson is joined by a posse of A-State heavies. System president Chuck Welch is here. So are hoops honchos Coach John Brady and Coach Brian Boyer. Terry Mohajir, the energetic athletic director, ignites the crowd with a pro-wrestler’s motivational. Anderson has also enlisted on-field star power in wide receiver Carlos McCants and quarterback Fredi Knighten.

Where Knighten lacks in imposing size he makes up for in charisma. Nothing shakes him. He’s relaxed among the slightly grizzled Red Wolves fans who are expecting another Bowl game this year. McCants, the seasoned red shirt Senior, seems even more at ease, flashing a broad smile as fan after fan offers him a hand to shake. McCants and Knighten prove to be fine ambassadors to a program that manages to rise despite entertaining four coaches in as many seasons.

The current coach, Blake Anderson, has the floor now. His approach to football is well-known to Red Wolves fans: Fast, Physical and Fun. He discusses in-stateblake anderson after spring game recruits, including recent commits from Warren. His voice thunders over the clinking of beer glasses and dinner plates. Like most great coaches, he has you believing in the team before the first play of the year has even been called.

“I like this guy,” says Tommy, about as a loquacious an endorsement as you’re bound to get from him. But it’s really all you need.

Everyone seems to like this guy.


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