PROVO — About a month into his senior season last fall, BYU linebacker Zayne Anderson decided to step away from the football field.
He had spent last offseason switching positions from safety to flash linebacker, and adding weight to his frame. Then Anderson injured his shoulder in the season-opener against Arizona. He played through the injury, which included a key interception in the Cougars’ stunning win at Wisconsin.
“In the Wisconsin game, the very first play of the game on the opening kickoff I ran downfield and tackled the guy,” Anderson recalled. “My shoulder kind of slipped out of place really fast. With a game like that, with the adrenaline, I kept playing, but it was hanging by a thread.”
Anderson was sidelined for the next couple of games against McNeese State and Washington. After playing against Utah State, Anderson decided it was time to shut down his season, undergo surgery and get healthy. In four games, Anderson recorded 36 tackles, a pick and a pass breakup.
“It was a weird adjustment. You plan on the whole year, your senior year, balling out every game and going to the next level. To have that setback was different. I took it as it is,” Anderson said. “At first, I was like, ‘I’m going to play through it.’ I had that tough-guy mindset. But (linebackers) coach (Ed) Lamb sat me down and said, 'This is going to carry on to the next level if you don’t get it fixed.' I still had a redshirt since I didn’t redshirt my freshman year. It worked out.”
On the first day of spring ball, Anderson, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder from Stansbury Park, was cleared for running for the first time since he had surgery five months ago. But he will be limited during the spring as he continues his recovery.
“I can’t have any contact for another month,” he said. “I’m taking this time to master the defense and help the younger guys and pretty much be a coach. It’s going to help the guys that are new. I’m taking on the responsibility of more leadership. That’s my role right now.”
Anderson’s plan is to be fully healthy by August.
“Zayne’s doing great. The biggest thing for him is always he wants to continue to grow and put on the weight that he feels like is necessary to be at his best,” Lamb said. “Sometimes that’s the biggest frustration with surgeries, just being able to push those weights hard enough to really gain the kind of weight that guys want to gain. As far as his injury, I think that’s pretty much behind him. He’s just trying to get his training back to full speed.”
Isaiah Kaufusi replaced Anderson at flash linebacker and became a consistent playmaker for the Cougars. Kaufusi is also limited in spring while recovering from an injury.
Just like last offseason, Anderson is trying to get bigger.
“I’m the type that when I can’t lift, I get small. I’m trying to put on my linebacker weight. That’s my challenge right now. That will be my challenge until fall camp,” Anderson said. “It’s been a process. You get through a period where you don’t feel part of the team because you’re rehabbing. You’re not with all the guys. During winter workouts and spring ball, it’s good to be back in the swing of things, hanging out with the team. It’s getting back to the grind and it feels good to be back in spring ball.”
In some ways, though, Anderson feels like he’s starting over.
“It’s kind of frustrating. I put on a lot of weight and then it all dropped after I got hurt,” he said. “I’ll do the same thing I did last year and put on even more weight. I’m trying to put on 15-20 pounds. I want to play at 220-225.”
Anderson will help anchor BYU’s linebacking group. Chaz Ah You, who recently returned home from a mission, is one of those making an impact.
“He can play all three (linebacker) positions. He’s so versatile. He’s big,” coach Kalani Sitake said of Ah You. “He can play safety, too. He’s got that much ability. Right now, we’re testing him a little bit in playing different positions. He’ll definitely be on the field.”
The Cougars are looking to replace middle linebacker Sione Takitaki, who led the team in tackles last season.
Redshirt freshman Jackson Kaufusi is vying to replace Takitaki along with fellow redshirt freshmen Alex Miskela and Max Tooley.
“Jackson Kaufusi got four games in but protected his eligibility (redshirt). I felt like he was ready to contribute and compete for a starting job last year," Lamb said. "But I felt like that with Sione and Butch (Pau'u), we had ample depth there. Alex Miskela will get their first looks this spring. Sam Lee and Connor Wills are two more guys that have been working with us this offseason. They’ve earned the respect of their teammates already and they’re going to get some reps at the middle linebacker spot.”
Anderson is looking forward to seeing who emerges this spring.25 comments on this story
“We’ve got a good group. They’re young but they have some experience. This spring is really important to them,” he said. “Jackson Kaufusi, Max Tooley, Alex Miskela, and Chaz is back. He’ll be really good for us. The whole linebacker group is young. They’re really talented. They just need experience.”
After having his senior year short-circuited last season, he’s eager for a senior season redux.
“One more year,” Anderson said. “I’m so happy to have another year here and continue my development and to be able to have another year with my boys. I’m excited.”