Q&A: Damien Anderson

Colin Becht

Damien Anderson remains a figure of lore in the Northwestern football program. The sixth-leading rusher in Big Ten history and leading rusher in NU history played for the Arizona Cardinals for four years after finishing up his college career with the Wildcats in 2001. Anderson finished fifth in voting for the Heisman Trophy after his junior season and led NU to a share of the Big Ten title and a berth in the 2000 Alamo Bowl. The Daily chatted with Anderson to get his thoughts on NU’s running backs and find out what he is up to now that his playing days are over.

Excerpts:

Q: How impressed are you by the national recognition the football team has been getting?

A: I’m not necessarily impressed. It’s more along the lines of deservedly so. I feel as though they’ve earned it. (Coach) Pat Fitzgerald runs a quality program, in which he’s making them compete at a higher level. I believe that he is truly one of the best in the game at getting nothing but buy-in from his players, as well as making them feel valued, as well as holding them accountable.

Q: What are your thoughts on NU’s current running backs?

A: I like (Mike) Trumpy and (Adonis) Smith. I think that they both run hard.… They have the foundation of what it takes. I know that I believed that I could be one of the best running backs in the country when I came to Northwestern. I don’t think that necessarily everybody believed that. To get a Division I scholarship, you have to be qualified, you have to dot the i’s, cross the t’s and pass all the tests and be ready, willing and able to play as a player in college football. They’re capable. Would I like to see more of an emphasis on the running game? Yeah, but they’re winning. That’s the most important thing.… They can have an impact running the ball if they wanted to, but their offensive coordinator has had a lot of success passing the ball.

Q: How helpful is it, as a running back, to have a dual-threat quarterback?

A: As a running back, it’s great. I had that luxury. I had Zak Kustok, one of the all-time greats at Northwestern, a very athletic quarterback. Just to have that added luxury, where the defense can’t just key on you because they have to focus on the quarterback or they have to focus on (wide receiver) Sam Simmons or another fullback or tight end. When your team’s playing at all cylinders and a person can create mismatches – and that’s what (quarterback) Dan Persa does – it opens up running lanes.”

Q: What advice would you give to Persa on recovering from a serious injury, like you had to do after your senior season?

A: I know that he’s frustrated. Injuries happen, but at the same time, you’re in the best hands. You’ve done everything that you possibly could do. Now you have to leave it up to the surgeons, you have to leave it up to the physical rehab. And then when it’s time, go out there on that field the same way that you did before in preparation and your performance. You control what you can control and don’t worry about everything else.

Q: What are you up to now?

A: I finished about two years ago playing football. My last go at it was with the Edmonton Eskimos. From there I started a social network company for football coaches, players and fans, called PlanetGridiron.com, as well as Planet Gridiron radio on the VoiceAmerica sports network. It’s an Internet-based show we broadcast every Friday. Also, I work as an analyst on Fox in Phoenix, for NFL and college wrap-up. The past year, I joined the Cardinals broadcast team, so I do broadcasting as well for the Arizona Cardinals.

Q: How has the transition been from player to analyst?

A: I came to the point where I had opportunities to play in the UFL, I had opportunities to go back to Canada. But for me, it was like, ‘Okay, Damien, you’re at 28. Your whole goal was to make it to the NFL. You did that. Do you really foresee yourself going back to the National Football League?’… The transition, I guess it was easy because I know that I had given everything that I possibly could, and I was able to walk away knowing that I tried my hardest.

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