Grambling’s ‘big play guy’: Defensive end Christian Anthony

Christian Anthony just wants to win.

In every game, on every down.

The personal accolades keep coming for Grambling’s standout defensive end.

Just this week, he was named a finalist for The Sports Network’s Buck Buchanan Award, recognizing the Football Championship Subdivision’s best defensive player.

Anthony pushes those out of the way like an errant offensive tackle, focused instead all week on Saturday’s opponent.

And only Saturday’s opponent.

Grambling faces Southern in the Bayou Classic, the annual rivalry game between the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s lone Louisiana-based programs. Kickoff is 1 p.m. on NBC.

“I think we are going to put everything together,” Anthony said. “I think we are going to do that.”

Whatever the outcome, look for Anthony to make a potentially game-turning move. Games like Saturday’s, played in the sizzling spotlight, bring out the best in him.

Anthony leads the team in sacks and tackles for a loss, for which he ranks No. 20 nationally. More remarkably, playing from the defensive line, he’s tied for team best in interceptions and is ranked No. 38 in the FCS.

“Christian has been outstanding, to say the least,” third-year Grambling coach Rod Broadway said. “He plays with a lot of energy; he is a big play guy.”

Anthony boasts five interceptions going into New Orleans, and is one of just nine FCS players to have returned two picks for touchdowns. He’s come within yards a couple of other times, and flipped the ball to another defender who scored, as well.

He’s tops in the SWAC for forced fumbles (four) and for recovered fumbles (three), and tied for No. 2 for tackles for a loss per game. He ranks in the top 10 for sacks, and total tackles, too.

“It’s been a long time,” said Southern’s Pete Richardson, the dean of SWAC coaches, “since I’ve seen someone who can take over a game like that.”

Anthony came into the year thinking his team could repeat as SWAC championships and Saturday’s clash, he said, is one more chance to show why. One more opportunity to prove something about his team, and about himself.

“I don’t think about all of these honors,” Anthony said. “My whole thing is to go out and play as hard as I can every game.”

Anthony, who at 6-4, 275, has a pro football frame, was initially recruited out of Birmingham, Ala., by a number of larger programs – including, he says, Southern Miss.

But he didn’t do as a well as he’d hoped on the ACT, and was facing a year in junior college. Anthony learned something about the process.

“All of the schools around me, there were with me – but not with me,” he said. “Grambling stood behind me. I didn’t want to go to a juco. I really wanted to get on the field. I appreciated that. I’m glad I made it my choice.

After a year in the prop program, he took the field for Grambling, and began remaking this defense in his hard-charging, never-quit image. The Tigers won the SWAC West in each of his first two seasons as a starter, and the league championship in 2008.

“He shows good leadership,” Broadway said. “We need guys to be positive and encourage guys during the ballgame. He does that. He’s as good as anybody I’ve ever coached. I think he has an opportunity to do something special. I think he will have an opportunity to play on Sundays.”

Anthony is considering the option of returning Grambling for another year of football-playing eligibility. A decision to go pro, he said, would be about taking care of his family.

Something else weighs in, though, after a disappointing year.

His dreams for a senior-season title ran aground in Dallas, when Grambling fell to Prairie View A&M – the conference’s eventual 2009 Western champ. That kept the Tigers from advancing to their seventh SWAC Championship Game since 2000, and third of Anthony’s celebrated college career.

He just wants to win – one more time, one more down.

One more game.

Sometimes, when he closes his eyes, Anthony is still there, on the field at the legendary Cotton Bowl, watching Prairie View’s players celebrate their first win over Grambling since the mid-1980s.

“I really want to come back, not just to come back but to increase my strength and to mentally get better prepared for the NFL,” Anthony said, then stopped short.

“I have to come back,” he said, voice hardening. “To beat Prairie View.”

Losing pushes Anthony forward, like a hot wind at his back. Through defenders, toward the ball. Maybe all the way back to Grambling for another year.

“I’m still thinking about the big picture, and that’s winning another championship,” Anthony said. “That’s what I really wanted to do. We had a couple of stumbles, but I am sure we will get back on track.”

He’s perhaps the best end in the nation to play on such a so-so defense, ranked just 47th in the FCS. And he comes up big when the stakes are at their highest.

Anthony had a season-high 12 tackles against then BCS Top 15 Oklahoma State, and returned interceptions for touchdowns against non-conference FCS foe Northwestern State and two-time defending SWAC East champion Jackson State.

“Christian Anthony, he can play with anybody,” Broadway said after the Oklahoma State game. “He proved that Saturday. He was all over the place. He played fast, he played hard. If we could get the rest of team to match his intensity, we would have a good football team.”

In a nationally televised ESPN game against Texas Southern, Anthony earned his second Sports Network defensive player of the week award after forcing two fumbles and intercepting yet another pass – then charging to the two-yard line to clinch the win.

“He’s a heck of a football player,” Texas Southern coach Johnnie Cole said afterward, “and he caused some problems.”

Anthony, after twice being named national FCS defender of the week, was still absorbing the implications of being named a finalist for the Buchanan Award – named after a fellow Alabama standout defensive lineman for Grambling coaching legend Eddie Robinson.

“Nobody from Grambling has ever won this,” Anthony said. “If I was lucky enough to, it would be about the greatest thing I can think of.”

For the school. He’s a program guy, someone who thinks in a larger context.

Anthony will talk about the history of this rural school, about his forebears. About playing with that legacy, and about adding to it.

“The one thing they say, all of the players and all of the coaches around here, is: ‘We Grambling,’” Anthony said. “We still say it like that, the way they always have.”

If Anthony occasionally pushes himself too far, getting out of position in pursuit of the play, it’s only because of a searing desire to win. It’s not for the recognition.

Anthony, who aims to be a judge one day, wants to be part of something bigger than himself.

For now, that means one more win in one more game, a season-ending shot at redemption on the turf of the Louisiana Superdome.

Anthony is in the moment. He knows what a win against Southern would mean.

To the school, to the fans.

“Grambling has won so many championships, so many Bayou Classics,” Anthony said. “We represent something more than this year or last year, every time we play. We’re making a fresh edition of black college history.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s