When the game was over, the undersized walk-on wearing No. 45 was lifted onto the shoulders of his teammates and carried off the field in triumph.
It could have been a reenactment of the final scene from the movie “Rudy.” But as for Nick Anderson and the Wake Forest football team are concerned, it was even better.
Unlike Notre Dame’s Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger of cinematic fame, Anderson didn’t just get on the field, he saved a game for the Deacons. He not only had a team-high 11 tackles but intercepted three passes, the final one on the next-to-last play to preserve a 23-16 upset of No. 19 Virginia Tech.
“He’s an absolute dog,” senior defensive lineman Sulaiman Kamara said of the 5-foot-11, 180-pound true freshman safety. “For him to be a walk-on on the Division I level and do what he’s done these last couple of games, especially (against Virginia Tech), it shows you that if you put the time and dedication into anything, you can make anything happen.”
Anderson was already making things happen for the Deacons before Saturday.
A week earlier, he led the team with nine tackles in a win at Virginia, and his 33 stops through five games rank second on the team.
A multisport star from Clifton, Virginia, Anderson helped his Centreville High School basketball squad to a state championship even though he joined the team after the season had started to fill the void left by a key player that was injured.
In a way, that’s similar to how he got his opportunity this season with Wake.
Pressed into service after injuries to Nasir Greer and Luke Masterson, Anderson has once again made the most of his opportunity.
For his efforts against the Hokies, he was named both the ACC’s Defensive Back and Rookie of the Week. His list of honors includes recognition as the national college football Player of the Week by the Walter Camp Foundation, among others.
But neither that nor the ride off the field on his teammates’ shoulders is the most meaningful reward he’s gotten as a result of his performance against the Hokies. Coach Dave Clawson announced after the game that Anderson will be awarded a scholarship.
“They were calling him Rudy and chanting ‘Scholly, scholly,’” Clawson said. “So we’ll definitely take care of that next semester.”
Anderson’s story has made him something of a national celebrity this week, and for good reason. But he’d just as soon play football than talk about it.
There are already enough people lining up to pat him on the back for him to start doing it to himself.
Take, for example, his response to the question of how it felt to be carried off the field after Saturday’s game.
“I obviously love the guys, but it’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about the team and especially our coaching staff, the preparation we put in the whole week for this game.”
Anderson was in the right places at the right time all afternoon.
At least, almost all afternoon.
He was burned early by Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker for a touchdown that helped erase an early 10-0 Deacons lead. But he made up for that with his first interception on a tipped ball in the end zone just before halftime to preserve a seven-point lead.
His second pick also came in the red zone, halting another opportunity for the Hokies to put points on the scoreboard, while the final one ended Tech’s last opportunity at sending the game into overtime.
Asked afterward which of his interceptions was his best, he had a hard time deciding.
“Every single one of them, just because there was a big impact on the game,” he said. “Anytime we go out there and get an ACC win, especially against a top-25 opponent, the feeling is awesome regardless of how I played.”
Anderson was a lightly recruited prospect out of high school whose only scholarship offers were from Butler, New Hampshire and Columbia.
His connection to Wake began when he attended Clawson’s camp two summers ago. The deal was sealed for him after he attended last season’s win against North Carolina.
“Once I saw that,” he said, “I knew this was the place for me.”
He made a positive impression on the Deacons staff with his performance at camp and stayed in touch, especially with linebackers coach Greg Jones. When Clawson offered the persistent youngster a spot on the team as a preferred walk-on, he jumped at the chance.
“That tells you what kind of competitor he is,” Clawson said of his new, unlikely star. “He wanted to play football in the ACC, in the Power Five, and we’re certainly glad he did that.”