Losing can be tough on anyone, but there may be no player on the Riverhead High School football team who had it rougher through the first four winless games this season than John Anderson.
That is because Anderson was powerless to do anything about it on the field. The senior lineman’s first half of the season was spent watching practices and games while standing on the sideline, his right arm in a sling. Anderson tore ligaments and muscle in his right elbow during the opening days of preseason camp.
How tough was it for him not to be able to play?
“Annoying isn’t the right word,” he said. “I was just eager to get back on the field. Watching the guys play, I wanted to help the guys. I wanted to be out there, be a leader, talk to the guys there out on the field, get them going, get them pumped up, try and be the best leader that I can be. I’m really just happy to be back now.”
Saturday was Anderson’s welcomed return. His first game of the season was his final homecoming game, and it was one to remember.
Anderson started at left guard and also played defensive end in a memorable game. Kyle Kelly’s nine-yard touchdown run with 45 seconds to go and Alec Buczynski’s point-after kick lifted Riverhead to a dramatic 27-26 triumph over Copiague.
It would be hard to imagine any of the Blue Waves being more grateful just to be on the field than Anderson.
“It was good to have Johnny back,” running back/linebacker Robbie Block said. “I know he’s been dying to get on the field and his first game he went out there and he ate it all up.”
Anderson turned in quite a game. He had a hand in four tackles (three for losses), including 1 1/2 sacks, sharing one with Block.
“His coming back was the biggest thing that could happen,” Kelly said. “He played fantastic. He played better than he did last year.”
The timing of Anderson’s return was impeccable.
“When I first got my injury, I said to myself, I’m definitely making it back for homecoming, without a doubt,” he said, “and sure enough, here we are today, first game back and we found our first W.”
Anderson, who made 26 tackles last year and was All-League, is one of the team’s most experienced and best players. Riverhead can ill afford not to have him on the field. Off the field, he is respected for his leadership as one of the team’s captains.
“He came to every practice,” Kelly said. “He came to every workout. … He showed team leadership. … He’s the best leader we have.”
Coach Leif Shay valued Anderson’s presence back on the field. “To have him back settles everybody down a little bit,” he said.
While the Blue Waves have a 1-4 record this season, Anderson is 1-0.
“It was really great to be back out here with the guys and playing more snaps,” he said. “I was just really happy to be back out here with the team. It’s my last homecoming game, my first game back senior year. I couldn’t have wanted to win it any differently [than] with these group of guys.”
Wide receiver/defensive back D.J. Chandler liked what he saw from Anderson, part of a line that helped generate 401 yards of offense.
“It was tough for him,” Chandler said. “He saw us struggling. He wanted to help and he couldn’t do that much. Now he comes back. He’s better than ever.”
Photo caption: Riverhead senior lineman John Anderson made his season debut Saturday after sitting out the first four games with injuries to his right elbow. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)