BELTON — When Mary Hardin-Baylor was drawing up plans for its pigskin palace, a first-time starter at quarterback wasn’t part of the picture.
But that will be the case Saturday night, when Zach Anderson will be under center for fourth-ranked UMHB (2-0) against fifth-ranked Wesley (2-0) in the inaugural game at Crusader Stadium.
Whether he has the physical skills to succeed in a matchup of two of the country’s best teams remains to be seen.
One thing is certain: Anderson won’t get flustered amid the carnival-like atmosphere Saturday night.
“I’m a pretty laid-back guy,” the 6-2, 185-pound sophomore from Odem said. “I just don’t get upset about too much stuff.”
Anderson showed his ability to remain calm under pressure last week.
After getting into a varsity game for the first time late in the second quarter, he went 12-of-14 for 161 yards and three touchdowns to spark UMHB’s 34-7 win at Kean (N.J.).
“That was quite a bit to be heaped on his shoulders at one time,” Crusaders coach Pete Fredenburg said of Anderson’s insertion into a game in which his team clung to a 3-0 lead. “But he’s so laid-back it’s sickening. He’s really laid-back.”
On Saturday, he’ll start in front of the largest home crowd in UMHB history against a Wolverines team that has held its own — the series is tied at 4-all — over the years against the Crusaders.
“I feel more excitement than anything,” said Anderson, who carries himself with a confidence that borders on cockiness. “The guys have said that (Wesley) is really physical, really fast and will come hit you in the mouth.
“But none of us are scared.”
Need a leader
UMHB has been searching for a quarterback to lean on since fall camp began. The original plan was to go with senior Brian Gallagher, but he’s been sidelined by an ankle injury. Then it was senior Jake Sims, but he was ineffective in the first half last week before suffering a groin injury.
It would seem natural for the next guy in line to play while looking over his shoulder, wondering when he was going to get the hook. That isn’t the case at all, though, with Anderson.
“I don’t feel that way. I feel like I’m going to get the job done and do what I need to do,” he said. “I’ll try not to give them any reason to pull me.”
His teammates seem to have confidence in their new quarterback.
“Zach brings a lot of energy to our offense,” senior running back Elijah Hudson said.
“And the things that he says are important things, so people listen when he speaks. His character and persona are different from the other quarterbacks, and I have no doubt that he can get the job done.”
Anderson is so comfortable in his own skin that he can get away with ribbing older, more-experienced teammates around the fieldhouse — especially defensive players, whom he knows will never get a chance to get even on the practice field because of the quarterback’s protected status.
“Now that I’m the starter, I even get to boss these guys around,” Anderson said while pointing to senior starting defensive backs Cody Jones and Brodrick Crain.
“Says the guy in the yellow jersey,” Jones shot back, drawing a laugh from the quarterback.
Big step up
Anderson has certainly come a long way in a year’s time.
Last season, Anderson was playing for UMHB’s junior varsity squad in front of a hundred or so fans.
“It will probably be a different atmosphere Saturday than those JV games last year,” Anderson admitted with a grin.
But he says he won’t be bothered by the hype Saturday, and he showed last week that he can stay calm in the pocket as it crumbles around him.
Surely there’s something that makes him uncomfortable.
“I can’t think of anything,” Anderson said, “except frogs. I’m definitely scared of frogs.”
“I don’t know why it is. It’s a phobia at this point,” Anderson said, laughing. “I probably shouldn’t say that, but I am. I’m just scared of them.”
That might best sum up the Crusaders’ quarterback, because only a guy as comfortable and confident as Anderson could admit being scared of Kermit.