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July 22, 2011

Best friends choose enemy sides

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HOOVER, Ala. -- Ryan Anderson and T.J. Yeldon are so close they might as well be brothers.

They met when they were 4, have been classmates since elementary school and today are practically inseparable. When the two aren't on the football field or lifting weights together, you can find them playing video games such as Call of Duty with one another, eating at the local Moe's or grilling out at one of their pals' houses.

"We're best friends," Anderson said.

And soon they will become enemies, at least on the football field.

For one more season, the two will be teammates at Alabama's Daphne High. After that, they'll go in different directions. Anderson, a linebacker, has pledged to Alabama. Yeldon, a Rivals100 and U.S. Army All-American running back, recently picked Auburn.

"You don't have too many times where you've got two guys that are big-time SEC players on your team," said Daphne assistant coach Mike Vickery.

And it's not often you'll find two guys who have been inseparable for more than a dozen years wind up on opposite sides of the most bitter rivalry in college football - and, someday soon, staring at each other across the line of scrimmage with the same goal: Destroy my best buddy on this play.

"It'll be a little strange," Anderson admitted Thursday at the National Select 7 on 7 Championships. "But it'll be fun tackling one of the best players out there."

For the 6-feet-2, 205-pound Yeldon, the No. 58 player nationally and No. 2 prospect in Alabama, big things, such as a scholarship from a BCS school, were expected for quite some time. For Anderson, who not long ago was neither tall nor well-built - but sprouted to 6-3, 250 pounds - that wasn't the case.

"T.J. was one of those kids you knew about from youth football," said Daphne assistant coach Mike Vickery. "He was on the varsity as a freshman and started off and on. He played wide receiver that season, and then by his 10th grade year, was our starting tailback. T.J. has been the size he is now since he was an eighth-grader."

Anderson's path was far different.

When he arrived at Daphne in the ninth grade, he wasn't really known to the coaches.

"We didn't really see Ryan play until he was a freshman in high school," Vickery said. "He played on our freshman team. He had a really good year and grew up a little bit. He was on the varsity in the 10th grade and midway through the season broke into the starting lineup. Ryan has really grown the past two years. He's probably added 3 or 4 inches and put on about 40 pounds. He's come a long way. T.J. has kind of maintained where he's always been."

Each player has his own unique traits.

"T.J. is so competitive," Vickery said. "Nobody will outwork him. Ryan has a mean streak. He's very mean on the field. It's controlled chaos on ever y play."

In 2010, Yeldon rushed for 1,150 yards and 18 touchdowns while Anderson, the state's No. 19 prospect, recorded 14 sacks. Behind their play, Daphne won the Class 6A state title.

Yeldon not only can play tailback, but has excellent hands and is lining up at receiver this week in Hoover. Last season, Anderson was a defensive lineman. This year, he had made the switch to linebacker, where Bama coaches see him playing in the future.

For Anderson, picking Alabama wasn't too difficult a choice. The Tide offered in early April and he committed the following week.

Yeldon, meanwhile, didn't pull the trigger until two months later. He chose the Tigers over, you guessed it, Alabama. And when he did, it wasn't just the Tide that lost a recruiting battle - so had Anderson, who had been working Yeldon pretty hard.

"It was difficult but Auburn was the place for me," Yeldon said. "It's the best fit. They run the same offense we do. I just fit in better there. I was more comfortable with the coaching. (Alabama) is still recruiting me pretty hard."

While both players said anything can happen between now and National Signing Day, each claimed the chances de-committing is slim.

And if their commitments hold, sometime in the near future the lifelong friends will pack up their belongings, one heading to Tuscaloosa as the other turns toward the Plains. They insist nothing could hurt their bond, but when they meet again in college they won't just be friends, they'll be foes.

"We always talked about playing together in college," Yeldon said. "But it's time to go our separate ways."



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