All-Area boys' soccer: Anderson enjoys the ride

All-Area boys' soccer: Anderson enjoys the ride

URBANA — It typically takes time for an athlete and coach to have their first confrontation. Perhaps a disagreement over team rules as a freshman, or a difference of opinion on play-calling as an upperclassman.

Bennett Anderson had a unique experience in that regard. He first butted heads with Urbana boys' soccer coach Randy Blackman in 2011. It's worth noting Anderson wouldn't be part of Blackman's team until his freshman year in 2014 — and that he went on to become the 2017 News-Gazette All-Area Boys' Soccer Player of the Year as a senior.

"I'll never forget about that," Blackman said with a laugh. "They remind me all the time."

Here's the situation: Anderson and his older brother, David, were touring Urbana High School after moving to the area from Boston. The siblings' father, Phil, had taken a job at the University of Illinois, and now he and wife Sybil were searching for an institution to which they could send their sons.

The brothers Anderson, carrying a soccer ball, decided to shoot around in what they figured was an open portion of the Tigers' field. Maybe open visually, but not to Blackman, who was practicing with the Urbana girls' team at the opposite end.

"Randy was yelling at us to get off," David said. "And we kind of went back to my parents with our tails between our legs, ashamed. And they're like, 'What happened?' And we're like, 'We got yelled at by the coach.'"

"Kind of scary," Bennett added. "We didn't do much talking after he yelled at us. It was kind of just our mom talking."

David went on to play for Blackman's group three years before Bennett, doing well enough to earn a spot on the Division III Kenyon College men's team. But Bennett overcame a frightening first meeting with Blackman and managed to do even better with the Tigers.

Leading by example

Just don't expect to hear too much about that success from Bennett himself.

"He is just so humble about it," David said. "Even when he found out he was Player of the Year, he didn't tell me. I had to find out from my mom a couple days later."

Bennett prefers to let his play do the talking, hence the 16 goals and team-best 13 assists he compiled for Urbana's run to the Sweet 16 in Class 2A this season.

"It's not his way to vocally yell and stuff like that for his teammates, to get on his teammates that way," Blackman said. "Encouragement, yes. But vocally, to get real loud and aggressive in that nature, that's not his nature."

Bennett's nature is more making people stop and stare. Like he did when threading the ball through three teammates as a freshman at one of Urbana's practices when David was a senior.

Or as he did in a 2017 Urbana Tournament semifinal game, stealing possession off the opening whistle and feeding junior Pablo Diaz for a quick-strike goal.

"I feel like I'm more of a leader now since I'm older, so I have more of an impact," Bennett said. "I've gotten stronger, faster. My footwork has gotten better."

David said he and Bennett have squared off 1-on-1 with a ball and net since they were little kids. David typically got the upper hand for many years. That's not necessarily the case anymore.

"Now he can actually compete and win against me," David said. "I was just three years in advance, but now it's become more of an even playing field athletically."

Brotherly rivalry

That's actually a big deal, because the Anderson brothers will square off on a college pitch next school year.

Alongside David's Kenyon squad in the North Coast Athletic Conference is the College of Wooster. And Bennett will join that school — where sister Sophia previously graduated from — as part of coach Andy Zidron's 2017-18 men's soccer squad.

Zidron has indicated Bennett is in contention to receive playing time as a freshman, meaning Bennett and David will battle for familial bragging rights during a conference game.

"That'll be pretty sweet," Bennett said with a laugh. "Our whole family is going to drive down and see it. Coach Blackman said he might actually come down and see it."

Bennett plans to major in physics and earn a minor in art at Wooster. He's an avid fan of photography, even suggesting an idea for his Player of the Year shoot.

But conversation eventually turns back to soccer each time. And it's no surprise, considering Bennett has gone from a self-described "young, weak" soccer athlete to one capable of impacting an NCAA program as a first-year player after a stellar prep career with the Tigers.

"I'm happy with it," Bennett said of his time playing for Urbana. "I'm glad we moved here and how things have turned out. It's been a pretty good run, and I'm looking forward to continuing on."