The locals always know before too long.
No good gossip stays quiet in any small town for very long, and Leesville, Louisiana, is no exception.
Matthew Anderson learned that recently, and the moment of clarity came in the very spot where so many Americans have experienced revelations about the way the world works: In line at Dairy Queen.
“Some ladies there just started asking me if I was going to be a Cornhusker, because they found out that I had an offer,” Anderson recounted this week, surprised but not that surprised that strangers in his hometown of about 6,000 in western Louisiana were up to date on his recruitment. “I said, yes, and they wanted to take pictures with me.”
Indeed, Anderson is going to be a Husker. The tackle for the class of 2019 has known it for a couple of weeks now, as has NU head coach Scott Frost and the Nebraska coaching staff. Anderson made the rather loosely held secret public Friday, his 17th birthday.
“It’s something I never thought could happen for me,” said the 6-foot-7, 250-pounder, ranked a three-star prospect by 247Sports and a two-star per Rivals. “I never grew up being a big-time athlete, so the fact that I have a chance to play for a school, especially Nebraska, it just means so much. The rich history they have, the history that’s coming back with Coach Frost.
“It’s a really big deal for me. I know my mom would be proud of me.”
That last sentence ... that’s really the heart of the matter.
If you want to know how a junior varsity tight end turns into an NCAA Division I tackle prospect, you can look to the frame, sure. He’s a blank slate, just the type of long, lean athlete Zach Duval and company can turn into "a monster," as Anderson's dad, Mark, says.
You also can look at the Northwestern State coach who alerted Husker running backs coach Ryan Held to a big-time prospect well off the typical recruiting radar. You can look in a lot of directions.
But the main reason, as Anderson himself tells it, is his mom Denise.
“She battled cancer my whole life,” Anderson said, outlining a grueling, devastating path. “She beat Stage 4 breast cancer when I was 14. (2015) was a year when she was in remission. It came back and was more progressive in her bones. She battled that for a long time and it took her life on Feb. 11, 2018.
“It’s been definitely a hard year for me. What’s kind of crazy is, I know all of this is because of her. I had no offers, I wasn’t really getting looked at by any colleges while she was alive. But the fact that I know she’s watching me in everything I’m doing is the biggest motivator I’ve ever had to be good.”
Denise, a police officer in the Army for 10 years before retiring when Matthew was young, would never miss a game. She scheduled chemo treatments in Houston — a three-plus-hour drive each way — for Friday mornings in order to get back to Leesville by evening, in time to watch Matthew and the Wampus Cats in action.
“Even when she was in so much pain, she’d still make it to my games,” he said. “I’d block a guy and I wouldn’t block him 100 percent because we’d be winning by a lot — he wouldn’t beat me, but I wouldn’t look like I was dominating — and I’d put my hand in the dirt and it would be like a switch that gets turned back on. I’d think about how hard my mom is fighting and she’s not complaining. She wouldn’t stop giving 100 percent. She’s always at 100 percent. So it’s definitely a huge motivator for me to never give up.”
Said Mark, “You could see him looking up in the stands and seeing her there, it mattered.”
Mark sees the same drive today.
“He’s always worked to please his mom and he still does that,” he said. “She’s not here, but she’s here. He’s still working hard for her and for himself. … There’s just a lot of caring there. I think he channels a lot of energy to make sure he’s doing what he needs to do.”
Since the scholarship offers started coming in, Mark’s been with Matthew on every college visit. As the young tackle recounted at the time, he almost committed on the spot in Frost’s office earlier this month during an unofficial visit. Before they walked in, father had words of restraint for son.
“It’s kind of like buying a car,” Mark explained. “A good deal today is still going to be a good deal when you wake up in the morning. Really, I just wanted him to make sure that when he made the decision, it was going to be the decision he really wanted to make.”
As they walked down the stairs and out of North Stadium to the parking lot, Anderson said he had wanted to commit. He and his dad spent the rest of the evening talking it out, calling family members and Matthew's high school football coaches. In the morning, they went back to the football offices and told Frost, Greg Austin and everybody else that Matthew was in.
He wanted to keep the commitment silent for a while to see if he could help attract attention for his Leesville teammates. Now, though, with the onset of the late-summer dead period and a family trip to Germany for a wedding coming up — the Andersons lived in Grafenwoehr, where Mark was stationed as part of his 24-year run as military police for the Army, until Matthew was 7 — it was time to make the decision public.
“The Big Red Revival, I really believe it with all my heart and I’m so happy that they’re trusting me to be one of the building blocks of it,” Anderson said.