This article first appeared in the Cal Kickoff Gameday Magazine, Oct. 13, 2011
By Tim Miguel
At the outset of every Cal football game you will see players warming up, stretching and getting amped for the upcoming game. But if you look in the end zone at just the right time, you will find Cal tailback C.J. Anderson saying a prayer.
The prayer that Anderson says is dedicated to his old friend from Bethel High School in Vallejo, Mike Pennerman, who was killed from an injury he sustained during a high school football game in November of 2004. Anderson, then a freshman at the school, was watching the varsity contest from the stands. Pennerman was the placeholder on an extra point attempt. The snap went over his head and when Pennerman went back to get the ball, he wound up on the bottom of a big pile. Moments later, he collapsed on the sideline and died the following day.
It was a devastating experience for Anderson and it is something that he has never forgotten. He always thinks of Pennerman, affectionately known as `Dawg' to his close friends, every time he steps on the gridiron.
"It motivates me all the time," Anderson said. "We had an expression, `Ball For Dawg.' We said it all the time. He died doing what he loved and what he did best. It pushes me to always play at my best because he always did. I feel like he's out there with me. It doesn't matter whether it's you, one of your teammates or your opponents; I always pray that doesn't ever happen to anybody on the field. "
Pennerman wore number nine in high school, the same number that Anderson currently sports. The number was not available when Anderson played at Laney College, but he was obviously overjoyed to have the honor of wearing it now at Cal since he has dedicated the 2011 season to Pennerman.
That dedication was evident immediately as Anderson, in just his first season with the Bears, has picked up the Cal offense quickly, thanks in part to the offense at Laney College being run and operated in a similar fashion. Anderson burst through for a huge 19-yard touchdown in Cal's overtime win at Colorado on Sept. 10 and followed that up with another touchdown the following game against Presbyterian, along with a career-high 45 yards rushing. He would find pay dirt again at Washington.
"Coming in really late, for the coaches to put their trust in me in big time situations and I come up big, it shows me that they trust me and I could become a big player one day," Anderson said. "Coming from a junior college, they recruit you to play. When they recruit you from high school, they want you because you're a good player and they're going to try to develop you. I knew coming out of a Juco that I was going to be asked to play early and pick up everything fast."
Anderson credits the guidance and tutelage of run game coordinator Ron Gould for helping him progress to where he stands today on the team. He said Gould has been like a father figure for him, and that's something most likely new to Anderson since he was not close with his father growing up.
"My dad chose to go back home to Mississippi when I was a little kid," Anderson said. "I found out when I was in eighth grade that he had moved back to California. I heard he was even at the Presbyterian game, but he didn't come find me. He missed out on a lot of my life, but I don't hold anything against him. I still respect him as my father. I just never had a father figure who I could call when I needed help or advice."
Luckily for Anderson, he is very close with his mother, his grandmother and his siblings. He even still remains close with Pennerman's family. Pennerman's uncle, Phillip Shelly, was Anderson's offensive coordinator in high school.
Anderson feels grateful to have wound up at Cal where not only Gould, but the entire Cal coaching staff looks out for the best interests of its players on and off the field.
"Growing up hearing about Cal, when I got here it was like, `Wow, everything they said about this place was true'," Anderson said. " It's a diverse community and family oriented. It fit perfectly. The coaches embrace you as if you're their son. They don't let you get away with anything. If you're late to class or a meeting, or even just not running hard at practice, they come up to you and ask you what's wrong."
Anderson would eventually like to become a starter and has set a lofty goal of topping 1,100 yards rushing this year. But for the time being, he is content with, as he puts it, being the Robin to starting tailback Isi Sofele's Batman.