Anderson breaks through tacklers from Emory & Henry College. (Photo courtesy of Charles Reel)

Three years ago, Mario Anderson wasn’t even sure he would play college football.

Newberry College’s star running back is one of the school’s key offensive pieces for the Division II school’s 5-1 start. He’s top 15 in the country in rushing yards and 7th in rushing touchdowns.

The standout talent had a few offers coming out of high school, but after a coaching change, he lost them all.

Anderson was a household name at Stratford High School in Goose Creek from 2016 to 2019.

“I thought Mario was, hands down, probably the best running back I’ve seen in the Lowcountry in a long time,” Goose Creek High School running back coach Jamie Fordham said. “He ended up proving it that year.”

Anderson looks at Fordham, his first trainer, as a mentor.

“Without Coach Fordham molding me into the (running) back that I am today, I feel as though I would be nothing,” Anderson said.

In his senior season, Anderson was Top 25 in the state in rushing yards and was named to the annual North/South All-Star Game. Stratford Head Coach Dennie McDaniel said Anderson never let his accomplishments distract him.

“You get a lot of guys who are the ‘all star’ and just rest on their talent alone, but that’s not Mario,” McDaniel said. “Not only was he probably the most talented kid we had on the team, but he was the hardest-working kid we had on the team.”

Anderson originally committed to play at Charleston Southern University, but a coaching change resulted in him having to de-commit.

“When I de-committed, I ended up getting a few offers from a few places in the (South Atlantic Conference),” Anderson said. “But everyone ended up backing away.”

Anderson said he was running low on options, as every program he spoke to ended up backtracking from their initial interest. Anderson also had a few junior college offers but didn’t want to move all the way to Kansas.

Fordham said he did everything he could to encourage Anderson during this time.

“I understand what it is to feel like people turned their back on you,” Fordham said. “But I always tell him, ‘God doesn’t make mistakes.’”

Then, Anderson found Newberry.

“We kind of scrambled around a little bit,” McDaniel said. “I knew the head coach from Newberry really well. We reached out to him, and they saw film on (Anderson), and they called me right back and said, ‘Can you get him up here?’”

Anderson said he visited the campus with his best friend and current Newberry wide receiver Andre Banks. There, he had his first interaction with Coach Todd Knight.

“Coach Knight was like, ‘We love your film. We’ve been wanting you but we just don’t have no money right now,’” Anderson said. “He was like, ‘The only money that we have is $500 worth of football money left.’ And I told them right then and there, ‘I want to come.’”

Anderson was used to being the star in high school. But when he first got to Newberry, he was in an unfamiliar role.

“I was basically a walk-on,” Anderson said. “But Coach Knight gave me an opportunity to showcase my talent.”

But Anderson would still have to earn his stripes as he was redshirted in his first year, which is when an athlete sits out for a season while maintaining a four-year eligibility.

Anderson still has two years of eligibility remaining. He was behind a group of upperclassmen running backs in his freshman year, so he was held out since he wouldn’t get much playing time.

“It was a humbling experience, you know, it’s definitely not for the weak,” Anderson said. “Even to this day, when a lot of times get hard, I go back to my freshman year. I sat out for this, I waited my time for this. It was most definitely humbling, most definitely a blessing in disguise.”

McDaniel said while Anderson has a high work ethic, humility is his standout trait.

“He’s very talented — just physically and naturally gifted — but what sets him apart is he’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever coached in my 23 years coaching football,” McDaniel said. “Even to this day, he still comes back (to Stratford). He works out in the weight room with our kids, and he just still sets that tone.”

Fordham said Anderson carries his same mentality off the field.

“Mario’s always wanting more information,” Fordham said. “He’s a hard-working guy, not just in football, man, but whatever he puts his mind to.”

Anderson was named the SAC Offensive Player of the Week last week after a career-high 246 rushing yards and four touchdowns in his last game. He’s also is on the watch list for the Harlon Hill trophy, the Division II equivalent of the Heisman.

“He’s doing some unbelievable things right now,” Fordham said. “The sky’s the limit for him.”

Mario Anderson breaks away for a run while playing for Stratford High School in Goose Creek. (Photo courtesy of Mario Anderson)

Anderson breaks away for a touchdown against Barton College. (Photo courtesy of Charles Reel)

Anderson poses in the endzone, representing Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. (Photo Courtesy of Charles Reel)