For much of his Johns Hopkins career, Braden Anderson was teammates with Hewitt Tomlin and Robbie Matey. Unfortunately for him, they happened to be two of the program's best-ever quarterbacks.
The reality of having to wait to lead the Blue Jays offense was unavoidable for his first three years in Baltimore. And it wasn't easy.
"It's tough," recalled Anderson, who graduated from Langley High (Va.) as the school's single-season record holder in passing yards and career leader in completions. "Everyone goes from being the star in high school to having a learning curve in college and sitting behind a guy unless you're extremely talented. So you sit for a year or two — or, in my case, three."
Anderson has made the most of his long-awaited opportunity. In his first year as starter, the senior has helped guide the Blue Jays, ranked No. 7 nationally by D3football.com, to an 11-0 record and the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs. They play at No. 9 Hobart (11-0) today.
Anderson has completed 67.5 percent of his passes this season, the 12th-highest percentage in Division III. He has thrown 23 touchdown passes and needs just two more to pass Tomlin for the single-season school record.
Add in just seven interceptions in 11 games, and Anderson's play has validated coach Jim Margraff's faith that he could succeed Matey.
"He was our starter. There were no questions about that," said Margraff, a former quarterback who ranks second at Johns Hopkins in career completions, passing yards and touchdown passes. "We've used him in important situations, and he's been stellar. He's been terrific, and anytime a guy invests himself for three years behind two good quarterbacks and gets his opportunity and has played as well as Braden has played, it is really rewarding as a coach."
Despite the backlog at quarterback, Anderson said he never considered quitting football, and offensive coordinator Greg Chimera noted Anderson's dedication as the scout team's quarterback.
"He worked hard, and every rep he took — even if he was taking scout team reps — he made it count, and he showed us that when he got into the games, he was ready to go," Chimera said. "There are a lot of guys who get into their sophomore and junior years without having played a lot, and you can kind of see them check out. But Braden was not one of those guys."
Anderson also realized he was backing up quarterbacks with top credentials.
"I give Robbie [Matey] a lot of credit. He's a great player, and he won 20 games in his two years as a starter. And Hewitt was [the Centennial Conference's] Offensive Player of the Year" in 2011, Anderson said. "I'll be honest: I would have liked to have been out there playing. But it's a situation where I did my best to try to prove the coaches that I was a starter, but sometimes it doesn't work out that way."
Finally given a shot under center, Anderson started the season slowly. He threw for just 496 yards and one touchdown with four interceptions over his first three games. But his signature performance came the next week, against against Centennial Conference rival Muhlenberg on Sept. 27.
Against a team many had picked to challenge the Blue Jays for the league title, Anderson had career highs in completions (29), yards (359) and touchdowns (four) in a 42-26 victory.
Margraff and Chimera called that game the turning point of Anderson's season.
"I would say that at that point, I felt more in command than I did early on," Anderson said. "Even though you go through practice, it does take a little game experience to feel fully comfortable with the guys around you and be in total command of the game plan. At that point, that was a turning point for us as an offense."
Since that win, Anderson has brimmed with confidence sophomore wide receiver Bradley Munday said.
"The entire year, I always thought he had been a poised quarterback, and not once did I ever see any hesitation or fear," Munday said. "But I would say that after that game, I haven't seen any nerves or fear or anything like that. After that game, nothing has really fazed him at all."
With Johns Hopkins' rushing offense stymied in last week's first-round game against Rowan, Anderson connected on 27 of 36 passes for 286 yards and three touchdowns to propel the Blue Jays to a 24-16 win. Anderson might need to repeat that type of performance today — Hobart has the eighth-ranked run defense in Division III — but he doesn't seem daunted.
"I wouldn't necessarily say that I feel pressure," he said. "I'm excited to go out and play a good team. I'm excited to play and keep going as long as we can. It's do-or-die for us, especially us seniors. We know that every football game could be our last, and that is the pressure you felt more than anything else."