By Andrew Johnson

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS – Muskegon Heights senior running back Jerry Anderson Jr. has extra motivation every time he walks onto a football field.

Anderson has played football for the past 10 years, obviously because he loves the game. But he’s also been playing with extra fire, because his father never got the chance to finish his football career.

His dad, Jerry Anderson, Sr., grew up playing football in Crawford, Mississippi, but his career was cut short when he was a high school freshman.

During a hunting trip, the elder Anderson grabbed a gun the wrong way and accidently shot himself. He spent some time in a coma before recovering, but never played football again.

“It means a lot to me to play football because my dad didn’t make it,” said Anderson, who added that his father had a lot of potential in football, before the accident. “It’s my turn now. It’s my time to take that chance and make it. It’s just a big motivation to me.”

Muskegon Heights’ Jerry Anderson (center) looks back after a play ends during practice. Photo/Jason Goorman

Anderson has faced his own challenges since moving to Muskegon Heights from Mississippi before his junior season. He’s been dealing with nagging injuries that have limited his effectiveness, at least until now.

He missed a portion of his junior season with an ankle injury, and then was limited in the first two weeks of the 2017 season with a hamstring injury.

But now he’s healthy and it’s showing. Anderson has 177 yards rushing and three touchdowns in his last two games, which helped the Tigers even their record at 2-2 after starting with a pair of losses.

He rushed for 86 yards on 14 carries with two touchdowns in the Tigers’ 30-20 victory over Manistee last week in Lakes 8 Conference play.

The Tigers trailed 7-0 at halftime, then took control by scoring 22 points in the third quarter. Anderson started the scoring with a 49-yard touchdown run to tie the game 7-7. Muskegon Heights was up 22-20 in the fourth quarter, before Anderson settled the issue with a 15-yard TD run.

“It feels great,” said Anderson about finally being healthy. “I can now work one hundred percent to help my team get the win. I can do anything and play out of my comfort zone.

“It feels great to be healthy, because when I’m not healthy, I feel like I’m letting my team down.”

Anderson carries the ball in a recent game against Detroit Community. Photo/Scott Stone

Another person who’s happy to see Anderson healthy is Muskegon Heights head coach Corey Chandler.

“Jerry is a great kid,” Chandler said. “I’m expecting a lot of big things out of him the rest of the season. He had a lingering hamstring injury throughout the summer, so he didn’t get many carries the first two weeks. But we’ve picked it up as he’s gotten healthier and he’s handled it well.”

With the two recent victories, Anderson is happy for his team and himself, and for the Muskegon Heights community. Tiger fans suffered through a pair of 2-7 seasons in 2015 and 2016.

“It feels like we’re doing good this year, and we’re not on a losing streak anymore,” he said. “We can make things happen, and people are buying in with good positive thoughts.”

A few other players are also giving Tiger fans enjoyment this season.

Senior Anthony Glover has 102 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries and 192 yards and three touchdowns on 10 receptions.

Glover also had a 90-yard kick return touchdown in the season opener for Muskegon Heights.

Junior quarterback LaMonta Townsend has completed 37 passes for 581 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for another score.

Anderson said a good part of the credit for the Tigers’ recent success should go to underclassmen like Townsend.

“We have a lot of underclassmen that step up,” he said. “We’ve got sophomores and juniors who step up in big time situations, so it’s not just the seniors carrying us.”

Anderson is hopeful that the Tigers will be able to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

“It would be a great thing for my family, the school, and the whole community,” he said. “It would give the younger classes a boost, too, and let them know they can play a big role in the future of the program.”