BLUEFIELD, Va. —
Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part series on former Richlands and Graham high school student Tyler Anders, who is now a student-athlete playing football at Vanderbilt.
“Win the day.”
Those the three words inspire Tyler Anders each morning, no matter whether it is in Bluefield — where he lives with a local family nice enough to take him in — or Nashville, where he is a student and on the football team at Vanderbilt.
Anders has learned the hard way to never take life for granted. The memories of an argument with his mother and her death the next morning from a drug overdose is still fresh on his mind.
“I try to make the best I can with everybody and tell them I love them, I never try to leave anything on a bad note now,” Anders said. “I was lazy in high school, I procrastinated.
“I take it day by day to try to make the best situation out of each day. (Vanderbilt football) Coach (James) Franklin always tells us to win the day so that is something I wake up trying to do, I try to win each day.”
• • •
After graduating from Graham, Anders had to make a decision about his future. He decided on Marshall, but sports didn’t appear to be in the equation.
“I thought I would go to Marshall because sports aren’t going to last forever just get the education,” Anders said. “I met a lot of great people at Marshall.”
Yet, his more enduring memory of Marshall came on Jan. 28, 2011, and it was another setback.
“I was walking with my buddy, we had just got some lunch, we were walking in a parking lot and I get knocked on the ground,” Anders said. “A car came up and hit me from behind so that broke my wrist.
“Lucky me, I landed on my face and messed up my teeth, I remember just calling back home, ‘I am okay, I got into an accident, you guys need to get up here.’ I ended up breaking my wrist and had to get surgery on my mouth and my teeth.
“After that Marshall wasn’t the best thing for me, especially financially.”
• • •
While Anders’ health was fine, his finances were not. College isn’t cheap, and soon realized he wasn’t long for Huntington.
“I explained my situation to them (at Marshall) and how I didn’t have that money to pay for tuition and everything,” Anders said. “I did well, but I just decided I needed to leave that place and get to a better university and that is when I ended up applying to Vanderbilt and a couple of other schools.”
Like with his many other setbacks, Anders refused to allow it to slow him down. His academic progress had improved during his senior year at Graham, and it only continue to get better at Marshall.
“What really helped me out was my upward trend, my first three years in high school were terrible, it is what it is,” Anders said. “Once I came to Graham, I started to do better, when I went to Marshall my first semester I had a 4.0, my second semester I had something like a 3.6.
“I showed that I had the potential and I was doing everything I can to do the best that I can.”
Yet, Anders decided to go elsewhere, and Vanderbilt was on his mind. It is one of the more difficult and costly academic institutions in the nation, and both appeared to be a strike against him.
“I really enjoyed Marshall, but financially I couldn’t do it so I knew about Vanderbilt,” Anders said. “I knew it was a great school, academics and being in the SEC in all these sports and most importantly they would help me as far as financially for my education.
“Once I got accepted, Vandy gave me a lot of financial help and that is when I made my decision that I wanted to go there.”
• • •
First, he had to wait his turn. Anders applied, and had the reinforcement of pleas of assistance from more of his friends.
“I have been blessed with great people,” Anders said. “I had numerous letters of recommendation that were outstanding, just people that wanted to see me succeed and did their part to help me reach my goals...
“I did get on the waiting list at Vanderbilt, but when I did I called them every other day. They knew my voice, just checking in, seeing if there is a spot, if there is anything I can do.”
July 1 was approaching fast and Anders was beginning to think it wasn’t going to happen.
“I didn’t think I was going to get in and then they called me, ‘Tyler, this is your academic counselor at Vanderbilt, we have a spot for you if you want it’,” Anders said.
Want it?!! He first had to make sure he wasn’t kidding.
“I remember checking the phone, ‘OK, a 615 number, this is for real,’” Anders said. “I said yes, I will sign whatever I need to sign, yes, just save my spot for me. I got to tell my grandmother and tell all my family and they were just so happy because they knew that is where I wanted to go.”
• • •
As for those finances, Anders — who is still hoping to earn a football scholarship at Vanderbilt — is paying less than some folks pay for community college.
“From what I have heard Vanderbilt is the number one school as far as financial support,” Anders said. “Personally I am by myself, I don’t have a mother or father to pay for my school so when I demonstrated that need for finances Vanderbilt helped me out 100 percent.
“I pay $800 to go to Vanderbilt and the tuition is like $60,000 there. That is like a community college. That was just another blessing that was afforded to me.”
• • •
With money worries aside, Anders next had to tackle the academics, which weren’t going to be easy.
“I just went to Vanderbilt for academics,” Anders said. “I know Coach Franklin, that was his first season, and he inspired a lot of people and just hearing him talk made me really want to be part of something great.”
Anders decided to try out for football and made the team, but decided it wasn’t for him. He decided to try out for basketball, didn’t make it, but did become a manager with a chance to possibly play the next year.
“Vanderbilt, academically is very tough, I needed a break, maybe relaxing in my room and watching a movie just didn’t do it for me,” Anders said. “My first year at Marshall, it was a disappointment going to the basketball games and not being able to play or going to the football games and not being able to play.”
However, Anders didn’t wait for basketball season. He decided prior to spring practice in March to try football again. He had to ask Franklin for another chance, and then proved his worth on the field.
“I thought I am going to give it a shot because I still felt great,” Anders said. “I just wanted a chance to compete and better myself and be part of something bigger than me.”
• • •
He made it.
Anders is now back at Vanderbilt, having left Bluefield after a few weeks at home. He is preparing for the upcoming season, while understanding how grueling the whole process of student and athlete is going to be.
“Academics alone takes so much out of me that I just remember there might be times I would skip a meal because I was so tired,” Anders said. “Then football came in and I remember waiting up at 4:30 for the 5 a.m. workouts, that was difficult.
“I remember I wouldn’t even sleep after that because by the time I got out of there I had my team breakfast and it would be time to get dressed and go to class.”
He has become a better student at Vanderbilt. He used to be a procrastinator, now he simply goes to work.
“It has really helped me with my time management, I am very efficient, if I know I need to do something I will do it then,” he said. “I think it has helped me more than when I was just a student at Vanderbilt because I do know when I need to do things, where I have so less time now, not only do I enjoy that free time that I have, but I make the best of what time I have.
“When I need to write a paper because I know I am not going to have another chance to do it today so I try to do it the best I can that first time. You have to get it done then.”
Anders is still searching for a major, although he is leaning toward education and either human or organizational development.
“I want to coach at the college level, but if that doesn’t work out you always need a fall back, I would love to teach at a college level or go into business,” Anders said. “That is my degree I am working on, but hopefully I can get into coaching.”
• • •
Anders had to grow up faster than most folks. He still recalls his final argument with his mother, only to get the call the next morning and learning she had died of a drug overdose.
“If there was one regret that I would have in my life I would take the same approach I have now,” Anders said. “I left things with my mother on bad terms, we got into an argument and I remember storming out the door and being immature.
“Now whether it is me leaving Nashville to come back home for a couple of weeks or leaving here to go to school for a semester, I try to make the best I can with everybody and tell them I love them.
“I try never to leave anything on a bad note now.”
Anders is an inspiration, sort of our own Michael Oher, who inspired the movie “The Blind Side.” He could have gone the ‘other’ way, and possibly wound up in jail like his father, or even worse.
Yet, he preserved, never letting the dreams of success to leave his mind.
Looking for a speaker with a message to tell? Give Anders a call.
“I would love to, if I had the chance to change one person’s perspective or life and just show them that life can throw you a lot of bad things,” Anders said. “If I can do it I know they can do it so if I could help anybody.
“Right now I try to be a role model for my little brother. Coach Franklin was getting on to us, he doesn’t want us in the newspaper doing anything stupid so I am trying to be a model student-athlete and showing that I not only give it my all on the football field, but in the classroom as well.”
• • •
Anders has experienced more in his 20 years than most do in a lifetime, and much of it has been bad. Yet, he never gave up hope, and all those people he met along the way, they didn’t either.
For that, Anders will never forget them.
“I would just say thank you, I have had so many people that have wanted to see me succeed and going out of their way to help me, I would say thank you,” Anders said. “I would say thank you to the people of Richlands, the people here at Graham and Bluefield, whatever you want to call it, I feel blessed with everybody I came in contact with and without them I can promise you I wouldn’t be as successful ...
“I don’t even really consider myself successful, not right now at least. Give me a couple of years and we will talk, but I would say thank you to everybody because the people that helped me helped me become the man I am today.”
Sounds like a winner, every day.
—Contact Brian Woodson