Football: Anderson earns position as backup quarterback

By Greg Trietley

Todd Graham and new backup quarterback Trey Anderson share more than just a Texas drawl.

They… Todd Graham and new backup quarterback Trey Anderson share more than just a Texas drawl.

They also both have experience with a no-huddle, fast-paced style of football.

Though Anderson was slow to join the Pitt roster — the true freshman had prepared to start as quarterback at a junior college in Texas — his familiarity with an up-tempo system and a standout performance during the August training camp earned him the spot as backup to quarterback Tino Sunseri.

Pitt quarterbacks coach Todd Dodge had his eye on Anderson before either was thinking of joining Pitt, actively recruiting Anderson while serving as head coach at North Texas last year. But when Dodge joined the Panthers and needed to fill a fourth quarterback position, he soon thought of five-foot-ten quarterback he’d left behind in Texas.

So Dodge called Anderson, a player, as he said, he thought the world of. At the time, Anderson was headed for Tyler Junior College but after more talks and a visit to campus, Anderson joined the Pitt program with little fanfare in July as a preferred walk-on.

With three signal callers ahead of him on the depth chart, he expected to redshirt.

This Saturday, he’s No. 2.

“Had I stayed [at North Texas], he would have been an offer guy for us,” Dodge said. “So I knew about him. I saw him play a couple times in the playoffs. I saw him play in the state championship game.”

That state championship game — Anderson’s Pearland squad against reigning champion Euless Trinity in front of 43,321 people at Cowboys Stadium — received national attention for a play that Pearland coach Tony Heath called “Dead Man.”

“Dead Man” had Anderson feign confusion over a play call. The center — the only lineman in a three-point stance — snapped the ball to him as both sides stood idle except for wide receiver Samuel Ukwuachu. Anderson calmly hit a streaking Ukwuachu for the touchdown, and Pearland won, 28-24.

Video of the trick play has over 3.4 million views on YouTube.

After an August that saw Graham and his coaching staff swoon over Anderson’s management of Pitt’s new playbook, Graham announced on Monday what had been speculated for over a week: that the true freshman out of Texas’ Pearland High School would serve as the backup to redshirt junior Sunseri.

Anderson said he would have definitely started at junior college, but didn’t know where he would land on Pitt’s depth chart. ”You could be anywhere from the fourth string to the backup,” he said. “I just came in with the mindset of competing and just doing the best I can. Whatever spot I would get, I would deserve it, however hard I tried. Coming in and working hard, I think I’ve earned that spot.”

While returning Panthers had to switch from former head coach Dave Wannstedt’s pro-style game plan to Graham’s up-tempo system, Anderson arrived in August with nothing to adapt to — his high school ran the same type of offense as Graham.

“It’s perfect,” Anderson said. “We ran almost the exact same offense in high school, just different terminology. I really feel comfortable with the high-tempo, high-octane, all that stuff.”

Dodge, too, called it a perfect fit. In practices earlier this month, Graham paused to take note of how adept Anderson’s handling of his playbook was.

“I’ve been amazed,” Graham said in a press conference after an Aug. 18 practice. “ I’ve watched him lining up the receivers: ‘Hey, you need to be plus-two off the hash.’ I’m going, ‘How does he know what he’s doing? He just got here.’”

Soon after coming to Pitt, Anderson found himself in a battle with redshirt freshman Mark Myers for the backup spot. Anthony Gonzalez, the No. 2 in spring practice, was suspended in May, opening the door for Anderson and Myers.

Gonzalez was suspended after he was charged with possession of marijuana and false indentification as well as underage drinking in May,

Myers, though, had a several-month head start.

“I don’t think [Anderson] had an advantage because everyone else had spring reps in this offense,” Dodge said. “But big picture, being a no-huddle quarterback, being in shotgun his whole life, he’s been running a similar offense in a no-huddle fashion since he was in the seventh grade.”

Anderson won the competition.

“Trey Anderson and Mark Myers have battled tremendously through camp, so we have a lot of confidence in both those guys,” Graham said at a press conference Monday. “Mark has a tremendous arm and is a great thrower. He is accurate with the deep ball and can really do all the things in the passing game. Trey does a great job operating, very accurate with his intermediate passing game and can throw the ball as well. The first guy if something happened would be Trey Anderson.”

In camp, Anderson built a rapport with Sunseri. During drills, the two often would discuss the nuances of a certain formation or play, as Sunseri had experience as a college quarterback and Anderson had experience in a no-huddle system.

“A guy like Tino, he has all the experience,” Anderson said. “He can give me some valuable hints and tips. He’s actually helped me out a lot, just in two weeks. He’s a good guy that I can count on for information, so he’s really important.”

Anderson threw for 2,898 yards and 25 touchdowns with four interceptions in his senior season. He also rushed for 442 yards and six touchdowns.

But even with a no-huddle background, Dodge still didn’t think Anderson would adapt so quickly as a true freshman. Partly because of his height and weight — he hit the scales at 150 pounds in high school — no major recruiting service had him higher than two stars, and Scout had him unrated.

“His skill set is tailor-made for what we do,” Dodge said. “To say that I expected him to come in and be able to function as quickly as he has, if you had asked me four weeks ago, I would have said it’s probably going to take a little longer.”

Anderson said that he has been rewarded for his strong camp not only with the backup position, but also with a scholarship.

“A couple days ago [Graham] said it’s for sure,” he said.

Dodge did say that Anderson is still a work in progress. He said he needs to work on recognizing blitzes and knowing where his eyes should be on every play, although he heaped praise on the freshman’s progress so far.

“I can’t imagine anybody that we would have taken in and signed in the first class in February coming in and being as productive as this kid has been,” he said. “The beautiful thing about him is that his skill set, the intangibles, the decision-making will never change. Keeping plays alive, that’s who he is … It will only get better.”