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Football: Anchor of Riverhead’s lines has heart

Riverhead football player John Anderson 081516

When John Anderson steps onto a field, he brings with him the equipment other players do, including a helmet and pads, but his most important football tool may be the one pounding in his chest.

“John’s got heart,” said Brian Moulton, a fellow senior on the Riverhead High School football team who has known Anderson since they were both in kindergarten. “No matter what, John will keep pushing forward.”

That drive has served Anderson well. He won a starting position last year in his first varsity season and is expected to be a two-way starter this year at defensive end and center. It may be a rarity when Anderson steps off the field because he also plays on special teams.

That would be just fine with the 6-foot, 240-pound player, whose attitude is, the more plays, the better.

“That’s how I look at it,” he said following the team’s first preseason practice on Monday morning.

Even though they reached the playoffs last year, the Blue Waves are coming off a somewhat disappointing season, finishing with a 4-5 record. Their sense was they could have done better.

“Last season was a little disappointing because that was a really good team,” said Moulton, who plays tight end, fullback and linebacker. “There was a lot of skill there. We just couldn’t put it all together.”

This year Riverhead is seeded eighth in Suffolk County Division II and it may be a challenge for the Blue Waves to play up to that ranking. Player numbers are down dramatically. Coach Leif Shay said he has the lowest player turnout since 1998 and projects a varsity roster of about 28 players, with another 22 or 23 on the junior varsity team.

Anderson, who made 24 tackles (including a sack) during the 2015 regular season, will anchor both lines. Shay called him the most athletic lineman on the team, noting Anderson’s 5.1-second time in the 40-yard dash. In addition, Anderson brings toughness to the team.

Shay described Anderson’s attitude as “exemplary.” The coach said: “He plays hard on both ends. He’s a very smart, cerebral player. He’s one of the toughest kids on the team. He’s that blue-collar, hard-nosed kid that you have to have to be successful.”

Anderson said he has benefitted from words of wisdom from older players and coaches over the years. He also has an unquestioned work ethic. He said he hasn’t missed an offseason workout since they started in January.

Anderson said the playing time he received last year not only helped him, but “showed that the coaches have faith in me and believe in me.”

This year he is being asked to take on a more vocal leadership role. Although the team captains haven’t been selected yet, it’s a good bet Anderson will be one of them.

Asked what he wants to get out of this season, Anderson answered: “Hopefully, a championship. You don’t shoot for anything less than that.”

“I think we all have the potential to be a good team this season,” he added. “The numbers are low, but I’d rather play with kids that have heart than kids that don’t really want to be on the team.”

When it comes to heart, Anderson knows what he’s talking about.

The Underdog Role. Last season ended for Riverhead with a playoff loss to West Islip, leaving the Blue Waves with a losing record. That’s a drop from the team’s lofty standards. “It was a step back from where we normally are and the commitment level was not the same,” said Leif Shay.

This year the Blue Waves will have their work cut out for them.

“We got to put aside what everybody else is thinking about us,” Brian Moulton said. “Everybody’s thinking that Riverhead, they lost all their good players. They’re not going to be good any more. I love a good underdog story, so we got to fight.”

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Photo caption: Riverhead senior lineman John Anderson brings toughness and athleticism to the team, said coach Leif Shay. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)