Why you should be rooting for the Broncos’ C.J. Anderson

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C.J. Anderson bursts through a hole in Denver Broncos training camp during the summer of 2013. (Photo: Twitter / Denver Broncos)

C.J. Anderson, No. 39, bursts through a hole in Denver Broncos training camp during the summer of 2013. (Photo: Twitter / Denver Broncos)

DENVER — Taoism warns revelers that life has a tendency to come full circle. Jack Canfield’s literature, including “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” has provided comfort to the grieving for decades. Friedrich Nietzsche thoughts on perspective have never gone out of style.

C.J. Anderson would know.

Once a philosophy student and now an aspiring philosophy professor, the current Denver Broncos running back has read all of the above. Studying the teachings of philosophy have given Anderson’s life purpose. Living his life has confirmed their teachings.

Rushing for over 4,000 yards as a high school football standout, Anderson had the on-field production to warrant consideration from major college football programs. But he lacked the grades.

After getting his grades up over two years spent gobbling up philosophy at Laney Community College, Anderson was told by most recruiters that at 5-foot-8, 205 pounds, he lacked the required size to play major college football.

Anderson bulked up to 225 pounds at the University of Cal-Berkley, but found a lack of opportunities at a running back position that was lousy with talent.

The NFL Combine came calling anyway, providing scouts with the opportunity to tell Anderson that he lacked the ideal speed to warrant being selected with any of the 254 picks in the NFL draft.

In other words, as the second day of the NFL draft came and went without his name being called, it appeared Anderson’s football career had come full circle: Where once there was talent, now there was no longer enough.

The opportunity was there for grief to set it, but in stepped the Denver Broncos, who offered Anderson a chance to sign as an undrafted free agent.

Armed with a formula from Canfield’s “Success Principles” — Event + Opportunity = Outcome — Anderson arrived at Broncos training camp and made the most out of his opportunity, turning heads as he bested every other Broncos running back by rushing for 69 yards on 15 carries in the team’s first preseason game.

And during the ensuing week of practice, Anderson was carted off the field with a sprained MCL. Doctors told him he’d be out at least six weeks.

It was the sort of news that could cripple a man without perspective. Anderson doesn’t fall into that category. And he has Michael Tracy Pennerman Jr. to thank for that.

About a decade ago, Pennerman was a young running back who was just starting to come into his own at Jesse Bethel High School in Vallejo, Calif. He also doubled as a hero for Anderson, who was 13 years old at the time.

“Michael was like a big brother to me,” Anderson said. “He was the man at the high school I was coming into. I was always trying to follow in his footsteps.”

Those footsteps came to a tragic halt on Nov. 6, 2004.

That night, Pennerman chased after a fumble and ended up on the bottom of a pile. He got up and tried to run off the field, but only made it several steps before collapsing. Several hours later, he was pronounced dead due to a traumatic brain injury.

It was the kind of thing that causes 13-year-olds to stare up at the ceiling at night and ask “why?” As it just so happened, Anderson wandered into the weight room at his new high school and found the answer written on the wall.

It came in the form of a 16-line poem by Mother Theresa, printed on the weight room wall to honor Pennerman.

“Life is an opportunity,” the poem begins, “benefit from it.”

It became Anderson’s mantra. And whether it be a chance to study philosophy at Laney College, to learn alongside students and players at Cal-Berkeley, to rehab a knee injury, the statement continues to ring true.

“Life’s a lot of things,” Anderson said. “It’s pain, it’s joy; it’s struggle, it’s success. But at the end of the day, life’s really just one big opportunity. It’s an experience. And I’m just trying to benefit from it.”

Speaking of opportunities, the Broncos’ finally gave Anderson his first shot in the NFL this past Sunday, placing him on the active roster for the first time this season. He received a team-low four carries in the Broncos’ 45-21 win over the Redskins.

A player who had never read Hippocrates might have sulked. Sitting alone in his little corner of the Broncos locker room, Anderson beamed.

“Healing is a matter of time,” Hippocrates once wrote. “But it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.”

Anderson’s finally getting that elusive opportunity. Consider this your opportunity to cheer him on.

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