Justin Anderson made up his mind.
He was ready to move on from Maryland and find a new home as a graduate student defensive lineman in college football. But he still had to decide where to transfer.
He said he had a list of potential suitors that included American Athletic Conference schools like Rutgers and Temple, but those schools didn’t have the secret weapon that the Massachusetts football team had.
While Anderson was playing for the Terrapins, he played under defensive line coach Dave Sollazzo as a freshman and sophomore. Sollazzo was there when Anderson had his breakthrough season in 2010 as an anchor on Maryland’s defensive line. He started all 13 games and made 22 total tackles and two sacks that season.
But Sollazzo moved on to coach at Villanova in 2011 and then at UMass in 2012, which is where he remains today. And when Anderson decided it was time to find a new football home, he decided to reunite with his former coach in Amherst.
“What really sets UMass apart was I know coach Sollazzo,” Anderson said. “I knew who he was. We were together at the University of Maryland. So knowing him and knowing his terminology and knowing what type of coach he was, it made it easier for me to make that decision.”
Having the comfort level that he does with Sollazzo helped Anderson make the transition to a new team. It also means that he is prepared for the coaching style of Sollazzo.
“I can say that there is never a dull moment with coach Sollazzo,” he said. “He’s loud all of the time, he’s in your face, he’s very vocal. You always remember coach Sollazzo. You never forget coach Sollazzo let’s put it that way. Coach Sollazzo, he’s a good guy. He means well, but when he wants you to get after it he lets you know.”
Anderson also knows what kinds of drills Sollazzo likes to do and when he might get an earful.
“He also knew when he was gonna get yelled at because he’s been yelled at before for screwing up,” Sollazzo said. “So he knows the lay of the land when it comes to playing D-line for me is what it boils down to.”
Although he is playing under a familiar face in Sollazzo, he still has a new defensive coordinator in Phil Elmassian. But that is nothing new for Anderson, who has played for four different defensive coordinators in his career, each with a different way of doing things.
Different defensive coordinators weren’t the only turbulence that he hit at Maryland, though.
After his career year in 2010, Anderson suffered a broken foot, which caused him to take a medical redshirt and sit out the entire 2011 season. That season was also the first year that Randy Edsall was the man in charge for the Terrapins after replacing longtime coach Ralph Friedgen.
When Anderson returned in 2012, he never really found a place under the new regime, playing in only five games, none of which were starts. He made six total tackles over the course of those five games, one of which was for a loss. So after a disappointing redshirt junior campaign, Anderson felt like it was time to get a fresh start.
“There was some other stuff that went on inside the team, but it just didn’t work out for me towards the end,” he said. “And after coming back from that broken foot and everything, it didn’t really work out for me. So that’s why me and my family decided it was time for me to move on.”
Although Anderson might be a new face in Amherst, he brings an Atlantic Coast Conference-tested leadership style along with him. As someone who has played in front of 80,000 people before, he can help his teammates prepare for environments like Wisconsin, who they lost 45-0 to on Saturday, and Kansas State.
Anderson, however, feels that he needs to earn the respect of his teammates first.
“I feel like a leader is someone that they appoint to lead the team and go on and do great things,” Anderson said. “So I feel like if I earn their respect and that’s what they decide to put me at, at the end of the day, then I will fulfill that role. But as of now, I’m just gonna come in here and earn their respect so they can trust me to go out on the field and do my job and help us win football games.”
Going forward, though, Anderson and the defensive line hope that they will have better games than they did in the season opener against the Badgers. The rush defense allowed a total of 393 yards on the ground and three different players to rush for over 100 yards for Wisconsin.
Despite the end result, it was still a special moment for Anderson to don his new jersey for the first time and play beside his new teammates – as a Minuteman.
“Going out there with the team felt great,” he said. “I felt like I was up there, so it felt real good to go out there with them and play with them. It’s a new team and new place, but guys still want to go out there and play football and just play the game that we love to play.”
Cameron McDonough can be reached at cameronm@ umass.edu and followed on twitter @Cam_McDonough.