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Ryder Anderson remains a constant leader amid Indiana’s disappointing season

Ryder Anderson was right in Demarcus Elliott’s face. It was during summer training camp and IU’s defensive linemen were competing in various conditioning drills: medicine ball throws across the field, sled pulls, sprints. That’s when Anderson started talking. “Go, go,” he said, getting right into his teammates’ faces. It wasn’t just that, but also some banter, trying to get under Elliott’s skin. Anderson was, as Elliott says, “talking ‘the s.’”

At that point, Elliott was ticked off. The anger, though, only motivated Elliott more to beat out Anderson in the drills.

“Looking back, that’s probably one of the hardest I’ve seen another guy work, another guy push other people,” Elliott said. “...It’s coming out of a good place in his heart. He knows that the season won’t be easy. Things will get hard.”

As it turns out, things have gotten hard for Indiana. A season that started with hopes of a Big Ten title has devolved into a 2-7 record. This, however, is what has made Anderson all the more valuable. During Indiana’s downward spiral, Anderson has been a trusted leader and constant source of energy. Anderson’s impact has also come with his play, where, in his first season at IU after transferring from Ole Miss, he has been one of the most reliable pieces on Indiana’s defensive line.

“Ryder is a guy that’s always looking to improve constantly,” IU defensive line coach Kevin Peoples said earlier this year. “He’s hard on himself. He’s a guy that wants to be perfect.”

What makes Anderson’s emergence as a leader all the more impressive is the fact that he did it from the moment he arrived at IU early this year. He quickly earned the respect of his peers by the way that he worked. He built relationships but also wasn’t afraid to be hard on them when needed. It also helped that he came in with SEC experience, having played in 45 career games in four seasons for the Rebels. 

“When he first got here, you couldn’t tell that he first got here,” Elliott said. “He wasn’t shy, he wasn’t timid at all. It’s kind of weird, when he got here, I felt like I’d known him my whole life.”

As Indiana’s losses piled up this season, Anderson’s belief and message remained constant.

After Indiana’s season-opening loss to Iowa: “I’ve played a lot of football. I’ve seen a lot of teams. I know this team right here is good.”

After Indiana’s loss to Cincinnati: “Love this team, it’s a long season we’re not done.”

After Indiana’s loss to Michigan State: “I care about these guys. I care about the team. I’m a competitor. Regardless of what may happen the week before, I’m going to attack the challenge ahead of me the next week.”

To a certain extent, the intangible traits that Anderson has brought to IU can be attributed to his career at Katy High School in Texas. Katy, which routinely produces blue-chip prospects, is run like a college program, where discipline and selflessness on a play-by-play basis are required. Defensive linemen are often asked to eat up blocks, so others can make plays. Given the depth of the team, there was a constant rotation of defensive linemen on the field.

“Going to school at Katy, I just learned a lot of big things like focusing on the fundamentals. being a team player, putting the team first,” Anderson said. “Just being a leader, being able to pass things down to the guys under you.”

Anderson, though, had to work his way up the ranks. As a freshman at Katy, Anderson played quarterback. He was “really tall” and “gangly,” Robert Ortiz, Anderson’s defensive line coach at Katy, said. Anderson was a “tweener in terms of his speed and quickness,” and “awkward” at receiver or tight end, Ortiz said, so the coaching staff decided to put him at defensive line.

Anderson did everything he could to make it a smooth transition. He asked questions and watched film. He’d meet with Ortiz at lunch to talk. He hit the weight room and worked on his nutrition. Anderson also had his older brother Rodney, who went on to play at Oklahoma, constantly preaching accountability.

“Work ethic,” Anderson said about what he learned from Rodney. “Just to give it my full effort trying to find ways to separate myself by putting in more work than the next person. He always stayed on me. He never let me slack.”

Anderson developed into a three-star defensive line prospect. As a junior, he helped Katy to a 16-0 state championship-winning season. Two years later, he arrived at Ole Miss and became a key rotation player by his sophomore year. As a senior last season, Anderson totaled 43 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Then, last January, Anderson found himself amid an interesting dynamic. Six days before Anderson committed to Indiana, his Ole Miss team beat IU in the Outback Bowl. After watching Indiana up close, Anderson knew it was a good fit and was sold on the opportunity to play more exclusively as an edge rusher.

That he has done. In a defense that has had its ups and downs, Anderson, now listed at 6-foot-6, 266 pounds, ranks fifth on the team in tackles with 40, second in tackles for loss with eight, and second in sacks with 3.5. Arguably his best game of the season came against Cincinnati, where he posted eight tackles, two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss.

Even though Indiana’s bowl eligibility is now gone, Anderson’s voice will continue to be heard as the Hoosiers attempt to finish the last three games of the season strong.

“I think a lot of time (Anderson's) just being a good person and being a good teammate," Peoples said. "That’s a quality that he exemplifies and the other guys fed off of that.”

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