Football:Why Matthew Anderson left Nebraska for Ragin' Cajuns, and why his mother would want to know
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Jan. 25, 2021
Denise Anderson didn’t get to see her son play his senior season of football at Leesville High.
Or that he signed with Nebraska.
And now after two seasons with the Cornhuskers, the 6-foot-6, 256-pound offensive tackle is transferring to UL.
But Matthew Anderson senses his mother has been along for the journey.
“I feel she had a hand in all that,” Anderson, a 2018 USA TODAY All-Louisiana pick, said of all the life-changing moments that took place after Denise Anderson lost her battle with breast cancer on Feb. 11, 2018.
UL was the first school to offer Anderson, long before bigger programs noticed.
“She knew about (interest from) UL and a couple other schools,” he said, “but … I don’t how much she really took in.
“But I definitely know she knows now, if that makes sense. She’s watching.”
Matthew Anderson explains what happened at Nebraska
The first Power 5 team to offer Anderson was Nebraska, and a visit to Lincoln prompted his vow to sign with the Cornhuskers. The commitment was non-binding, but Anderson felt obliged anyway.
“As a person that wants to tell the truth I don’t want to go back on my word,” he said. “So it was kind of a matter of, ‘I said it, so I’ll stick with it.’ ”
In hindsight, Anderson realizes he got caught up in the glitz and glamour of a prestigious program in the Big Ten with plenty of resources and a rich college football history.
“Shiny things have always been a problem,” he said, laughing.
Anderson redshirted as a still-growing freshman in 2019, then opted out of the 2020 season amid COVID-19 pandemic concerns.
He’s kicking himself now, but then – with much uncertainty about whether Nebraska and other teams in its conference would play – it made sense.
“I was far from family, I was feeling pretty low,” said Anderson, who remained enrolled in classes. “So I figured that maybe a break – a little break – from football might do me some good.
“Then, the day after I talked with my coaches, and they agreed with me … is when the announcement came out that Big Ten football was going to happen. It was kind of like, ‘Ahhh, if I had waited one more day.’ ”
Easier said than done:Ragin' Cajuns feel dual-sport pursuit is difficult but doable
The choice was made. Fate ensued. Really, though, Anderson’s potential departure had been brewing.
With family 900-plus miles away, he said he immediately felt “alone” in Lincoln. A few semesters later, Anderson realized the fit wasn’t right.
He entered the transfer portal Dec. 30. A week and a half later, his next step became clear.
Anderson briefly was in talks with Mississippi State. Southland Conference schools Central Arkansas and McNeese made offers. Austin Peay, too.
“I was open to listen to anybody,” Anderson said, “because I felt as though I learned a lesson with getting caught in the fancy lights.”
Matthew Anderson with his dad in Nebraska in June 2018.
Not long after he entered the transfer portal, Cajuns offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Rob Sale contacted his old recruit.
“It was kind of a, ‘Well, well, well,’ ” Anderson said.
The words were soothing, especially after watching UL’s success – 11-3 in 2019 with a LendingTree Bowl win over Miami (Ohio), 10-1 in 2020 with a season-opening win at Iowa State and a First Responder Bowl win over UTSA.
“I was like, ‘Dang, I could have been a part of that,’ ” Anderson said.
His choice makes even more sense because the youngest of his three sisters, one he’s quite close with, Kelsey, is enrolled at UL.
“I know she’s excited,” he said, “and I know I’m just really excited, because I haven’t been this pumped up about football for a while.
“It really does feel good to have the fire back.”
The Cajuns’ welcome offer, however, came with a caveat: Nebraska paid his way, but UL won’t this semester.
“They’re full on scholarships right now,” said Anderson, the youngest of five siblings.
“I completely understand, and … I feel I still need to prove myself a little bit, which I’m kind of looking forward to. It’s nice to go in somewhere and you have to earn something, you know?
“I felt like I was given that (by Nebraska) based off my high school credentials,” he added, “but I think this chance UL gave me, they were honest with me and they told me straight up what they expect.”
Leaning on dad now
And now it's back to Leesville – located about 10 miles from Fort Polk and about 50 from Alexandria, near the Louisiana-Texas border. Anderson leans on his father, Mark Anderson, a career Army man who’s now a civilian military employee.
“My dad, he’s definitely the reason I’m able to go on and accomplish the things I want to be able to accomplish,” Anderson said. “He really gives me that strength, you know? I don’t know if I can say enough good things about him.
“If I have half of my dad’s work ethic, I think I’m gonna be doing pretty alright in life.”
Still, he misses his mother who would have encouraged him to always chase his dream.
“She would have approved,” Matthew said his decision to sign with Nebraska. “Her biggest rule with me was ‘Just be happy.’
“She probably wouldn’t have been too happy with me later on, but she would have been very supportive of me regardless. She was a mama bear, you know? Very protective; always on my side.”