Top Cat: Anderson defies odds, makes it to Division-I football

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

Redshirt junior running back Christopher Anderson played in his first game for the Panthers Saturday against Austin Peay.
Redshirt junior running back Christopher Anderson played in his first game for the Panthers Saturday against Austin Peay.


Christopher Anderson was not supposed to end up playing football. But for him, playing Division-I football was where he was meant to be.

The redshirt junior running back got his first crack at Division-I football Saturday against Austin Peay and ran all over the Governors, but his journey in football began long before 1 p.m. on Saturday.

If you met Anderson, he may just be one of the happiest and cheerful people you would ever meet. But his infectious smile was made possible by the kind acts of his mother’s cousin, Madeline Washington, and her husband Aron Washington.

The Washingtons adopted him and his sister and became his family. And even with everything he went through, he was always happy.

“It takes a lot to piss him off,” Aron said. “He’s been a happy kid all his life. You have to run him over with a car to make him mad.”

Anderson grew up in foster care in the hands of the Washington family. Anderson’s birth mother was a drug addict and called the Washingtons and asked if they would take care of him.

“My mom was on drugs really bad,” Anderson said. “When I was born, I was twisted up and stuff because she was on drugs. She left me at the hospital, but she felt bad, so she called her first cousin, and I call them my mom and dad because they raised me.”

As a foster kid, it was tough for Anderson growing up. He had a lot to deal with being born with the situation he was handed.

“They said I had ADHD, and I’m a crack baby and blah blah blah, and I used to have to wear a helmet when I was younger, and that’s sad because look where I’m at now. I’m not the same dude I was when I was younger. It’s just crazy,” Anderson said.

It took some time, but Anderson’s mother got clean, and Anderson started to see her again and got to know his birth mother. But when he was 10 years old, his mother died. Even though she was not the one raising him, and he was just getting to know her, it still hit him hard.

“That really hurt me when I saw her in the casket,” Anderson said. “That really broke me down. And I never wanted people to know that I was in foster care; I never really talked to people about my (biological) parents.”

Anderson not only lost his mom at a young age, but he also still does not know who his birth father is. And what makes it hurt for him is that he knows he is not the only one who is facing a situation like his in the world.

“It’s sad because I know there’s other people out there like me, but they probably go the other route,” Anderson said.

He said some kids can use the situation to say “screw the world, I’m going to gangbang and stuff like that, and that is sad and unfortunate.”

Anderson could have done the same thing, but the toughness Eastern fans saw Saturday on the football field, as he plowed over the Austin Peay defense like a truck en route to racking up 129 rushing yards, stemmed from his toughness to never break down no matter how rough life got.

When Anderson is handed the ball from the quarterback, he has one thought in mind: run people over.

“They’re going to feel my pain,” Anderson said. “They’re going to feel I play with passion, and I’m the type of player where I’m patient and the first thing I do — I’m going to run you over. I’m going to let you know I’m here for the whole game.”

And that is how Anderson has attacked life, his father said.

“People try to put him down and he’ll get right back up,” Aron said. “He’s truly incredible.”

No matter how good of a game Anderson had growing up and even now, his father makes him stay humble.

“Don’t ever brag about it,” Aron said. “If you’re a doer, you’ll get to where you want to get; don’t ever put anyone down.”

But before the Eastern running back was creating his own path running over defenders, he almost found himself going in the wrong direction and away from his dream of Division-I football.

“While all that was happening, I was getting into the wrong crowd,” Anderson said. “I was blessed enough to move from San Bernardino, (Calif.) to the desert and get away from all of that.”

When he moved away from everything that could force him down the wrong path, that is when his life changed for the better, and that is where his football career began.

He started getting 3.0 grade-point averages, and his first year of playing football was in eighth grade, but football was a work in progress for the now D-I athlete.

“You can ask anyone, I didn’t know how to catch, I didn’t know how to run the ball and from eighth grade to now, I see the improvement,” he said. “It’s a blessing because I’m here finally. I really set a goal that I was going to go Division-I.”

People told Anderson only 2 percent of players go Division-I, but he did not listen.

That is what sets Anderson apart from a lot of people, and now he is where he wants to be.

Now that he has made it to where he wants to be, it is all about giving back to his adopted parents because what they gave to him was so much.

Giving back to his parents has been on his mind since he was young.

“Coming from that, I (said) ‘I don’t want to live like this. I want to give back to my parents.’ What they did for me, I’m trying to do for them now,” Anderson said.

When it comes to football, school and getting a job, one person other than Aron and Madeline to push him through it all is his foster brother, Aron Washington Jr.

Anderson grew up with Aron Jr. in foster care, and the bond created then is still strong today.

“He just tells me every day that he wants me to be the best I can be in anything I can do,” Anderson said.

Anyone who watched Saturday’s game can see the yards he put up, the two touchdowns he scored and the players he ran over. All the encouragement is great for Anderson, he said, but what really motivates him is Aron Jr. pointing out the errors he made.

Aron Jr. will not tell his younger brother about how great he did. Anderson had one fumble against Austin Peay, but luckily for him and the Panthers, the ball was knocked out of his arm, off a lineman’s helmet and into the arms of redshirt senior wide receiver Shawn Mitchell Jr., who went one more yard for the touchdown.

Anderson has joked with him everyday since the game that it “saved his life.”

With the relationship Anderson has with his brother and the advice of staying humble from his father, he has made sure that he will not reminisce on one performance, no matter how strong it is, and he still has to improve every day.

Anderson knows that his brother does care about him being successful.

“He’s always been there (for me),” Anderson said.

And now that Anderson is at Eastern, living his dream playing on a D-I football team, he can add 95 more people to his family.

After going through so much and getting to play football where he had always dreamed, he has his eye set on another goal — to be the first in his family to get a degree.

“(My parents) just tell me every day, ‘get your degree. That’s going to make us proud.’ I’ll be the first in that family to get my degree. To really push this far, come to college, get a scholarship… they’re just extremely happy for me.”

Coming into the 2016 football season, Anderson was a fresh face to the Panthers, transferring from Riverside Community College in California. With two backs ahead of him on the depth chart, he did not know if he would get to play or have to redshirt.

But running back coach Tyler Stevens told him if someone goes down they would have to pull his redshirt. In other words, Anderson did not even know he would play Saturday.

Anderson never lost sight of what he wanted, and now he really is a Division-I running back.

Even his mom knew he was going to end up playing D-I football.

“I would put him in the play pen, and he would always jump out and run around the house,” Madeline said. “I knew he was going to be somebody. We all knew he was going to be somebody.”

Sean Hastings can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]