Kiante Anderson grew up in Pirate Country, so he is intimately acquainted with the passionate – and sometimes painful – existence of the most faithful East Carolina fans. The senior defensive end isn’t one to seek the spotlight, but he is still gratified when he is out in Greenville and people recognize him.
“Almost everywhere I go, oh, I hear, ‘You’re 96!” said Anderson, who graduated from South Central and played for two years at St. Augustine in Raleigh before returning to ECU. “That’s just a blessing, and I like it. I don’t really like attention, but sometimes it just kind of makes my day. It’s just a blessing to be home and playing the game I love the most.”
But Anderson knows there are two sides to that football enthusiasm, and this week the other side has been on display. Fans are frustrated and concerned after Saturday’s 34-14 loss to James Madison, with little to do this week but vent on message boards and accumulate worries about the challenging opponents ahead.
The difference between the Pirate Nation and players like Anderson? The members of the team have had plenty to do this week – watch film, dissect the problems with last week’s loss and set a different course for their trip to West Virginia.
“You’re always going to deal with critics, that’s just a part of life,” he said. “It’s just how you bounce back from it. We’re doing whatever we can to win these next games coming up.”
With the lone Pirate sack and 2.5 tackles for loss last week against the Dukes, Anderson showed a glimpse of what he and his fellow defensive linemen (including, among others, former SCHS teammate Kendall Futrell) expect to accomplish this season, he said. This has been a week for reframing his mental game and reinforcing the fundamentals that guided the Pirates through spring, summer and preseason workouts, he said.
After the team was forced inside for Wednesday’s workout due to lightning, defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson echoed Anderson’s conviction that the defense has much left to reveal. The coaching staff and players have thoroughly dissected the tape from the JMU defeat, he said, and came away convinced that they have the tools to compete.
“Guys have got to execute, do their job, we’ve got to do a better job making sure they understand what they’re supposed to do,” Thompson said. “Because at the end of the day we feel like the guys can get that job done, and we’ve got to all work together to make sure that happens.”
If Anderson’s senior season has a happy ending, people well beyond the ECU fan base will rejoice with him. After all, when head coach Scottie Montgomery showed up at the workplace of Anderson’s mother Tia Chapman in May to surprise her with the news that the walk-on had earned a full scholarship, the resulting video garnered nearly 300,000 views on YouTube.
Before that big moment, he played with a chip on his shoulder, but now Anderson wants to prove that he’s worth every dollar of that scholarship.
“I was asleep when I got the phone call,” Anderson said of the day Chapman and Montgomery called to tell him the good news. “Normally my mom, she doesn’t call me early in the morning unless something’s wrong. Just to get that phone call just really made my day, and just to see her and her emotions, it got to me. We’ve been through so much, and just to be blessed like that, it’s incredible. And I can’t thank Coach Mo enough for that.”