By Alaa Abdeldaiem | @Abdeldaiem_Alaa
Sports Capital Journalism Program
LOS ANGELES –– He sat, a picture of calm and composure in the midst of a media frenzy, fielding questions he knew to expect.
It has been two weeks since Rodney Anderson was told he wouldn’t face charges after a woman accused him of sexual assault — charges he asserted were false from the beginning — so Anderson saw the questions coming.
He waited. He listened. He answered. He referred to the things he knew and relied on most.
Faith, and a whole lot of football.
As the Oklahoma Sooners prepare to face Georgia in Monday’s Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual, Anderson will continue with that approach. After all, faith and football is all the redshirt sophomore has ever been about.
After suffering a season-ending knee injury two games into the 2015 season and a neck injury during fall camp of 2016, Anderson learned to “rely on God,” donning a wristband given to him by his hometown community of Katy, Texas, with “Jeremiah 29:11” written on its front.
“I just relied on God throughout this whole thing with my family,” Anderson said. “All you can do is pray and that’s what I did. I prayed for myself and I prayed for her and I prayed for everybody involved in that situation. I relied on my faith, and now I’m focused on football and focused on my team.”
That mindset, the belief that God has a plan for him, now brings Anderson to the College Football Playoff, and the timing couldn’t be more ideal.
With all eyes on Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma passing game, co-offensive coordinator Cale Gundy was asked if it is important to assume the Sooners will have to run often.
“You’d better not be thinking anything else, because if you’re thinking anything else and you get out there and then that happens, you’re in trouble,” Gundy said. “They are a great football team. They have got great players across the board. We understand the challenge that we’re going to have.”
Having Anderson on the field might make it easier. Anderson rushed for 960 yards with 11 touchdowns and had 283 receiving yards with five more scores despite a role as a backup that lasted until Oct. 28. In the last six games as a starter, he averaged 121.9 rushing yards.
Anderson stood out on the national scene with a dominant performance against TCU on Nov. 11, when he finished with 290 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns in the Sooners’ 38-20 win. Anderson then ran for four touchdowns against West Virginia and rushed for 93 yards against TCU in the Big 12 title game.
“I just kept working hard,” Anderson said. “Hard work really does pay off. I never lost confidence in myself. I just put my head down, kept working and it paid off.”
Part of the challenge will be on Oklahoma’s offensive line to ensure his success, however. With a stout presence up front, the Bulldogs allow just 3.47 yards per carry and are ranked No. 11 in average rushing yards allowed per game with 112.6. Georgia has given up just six rushing touchdowns all year.
“They’ve got a great front seven,” Oklahoma offensive tackle Orlando Brown said. “They’ve got a ton of guys that they play with on the defensive line, a lot of talent. I know the safeties play in the box a little bit, also. It’s going to be a great match-up.”
The Sooners know their rushing attack can go unnoticed, but this offensive line believes they’re ready to make its presence known.
“The media and other conferences don’t really see the Big 12 as a running-style offense, so it’s kind of overshadowed,” center Erick Wren said. “You got those guys, Trey [Sermon], Rodney, even Abdul Adams and Marcelias [Sutton], they can all come into the game. It’s really underappreciated. Those are four very, very good backs that can play anywhere in the country.”
And as Monday afternoon approaches, Anderson knows he’ll try to prove it. He’ll face off against one of the nation’s most elite defenses, letting his presence be felt.
He’ll keep working to get there, keep his head down, keep focusing on football, keeping relying on his faith, keep praying it’ll pay off.
He’ll remember the inscription on his wristband, a reference to the verse that Anderson has lived by all season.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”