MARQUETTE - Sault Ste. Marie native Zach Anderson was brought up in the Blue Devils' football program as part of four down-lineman front.
When he came to Northern Michigan University in 2008, however, then-defensive coordinator Randy Awry introduced the four-year SAHS letterman to a 3-4 scheme.
Now in his fifth and final season of college football, Anderson was given a gift by new Wildcat defensive coordinator Brian Newberry in the spring.
Northern Michigan University senior defensive tackle Zach Anderson of Sault Ste. Marie works in pass rushing drills during a Monday evening training camp practice inside the Superior Dome. Anderson was a second-team All-GLIAC selection as a junior in 2011. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
The Wildcats are moving to a 4-3 defense, and Anderson has the green light to get after the quarterback again.
"I would say (the 4-3) is more natural, but I played under coach Awrey's system for your years, so I got accustomed to the three-man front," Anderson said. "Going back to the four-man front ... is not a bad way to end my senior year."
Both Newberry and new defensive line coach Joe Coniglio have pointed to Anderson as the anchor of the Wildcats' retooled defensive line after the high-motor defensive tackle was named to the All-GLIAC second team.
Anderson, a defensive captain alongside senior linebacker Eddie Knoblock, finished with a team-high 68 tackles last season, including 9.5 for a loss and four sacks. His 13-tackle game against Findlay earned him the GLIAC Defensive Player of Week award.
"I expect really great things out of Zach Anderson," Newberry said. "I'd be disappointed if he wasn't one of the better players in this league this year."
Anderson said he's expecting an All-American season out of himself at tackle after putting in five days a week this summer in the weight room and another four days a week running to increase his speed. He ran a 4.58-second 40-yard dash in the spring.
Anderson said his work with Coniglio, who also serves as the team's strength and conditioning coordinator, has also improved his pass rushing technique.
"It's fun," Anderson said. "Going from the three to the four is better. It takes the double teams away. It's more single team, one-on-one. That's what I like to be, one-on-one with people."
Joining Anderson in the middle and projected to start in the Aug. 30 opener at Findlay is sophomore Jordan Adediran from Gwinn. The former Modeltowner appeared in 10 games last season after redshirting in 2010.
Newberry said there was some concern with Adediran coming out of the spring season, but he's emerged from summer workouts a whole new player.
"He's done some great things from a physical standpoint," Coniglio said. "He has really built his body and given himself a chance to be successful this coming year."
On the outside, Northern will turn to senior James Brito-White, who transferred to NMU from Moorpark College in California last season, and redshirt freshman Matt Smith out of downstate Hudson.
Both have excited Coniglio during training camp.
"(Brito-White) is just a really reliable, hard working, dedicated player," Coniglio said. "I love him. I love all our players, but he loves it and I love it that he does.
"(Smith) has really become a polished pass rusher. He has really worked hard to perfect his craft and somebody I'm really, really excited about this year."
Both Newberry and Coniglio are excited about the team's starting front four, but that enthusiasm comes down a notch when it comes to breaking down the men behind Anderson, Adediran, Brito-White and Smith.
"My concern is our depth a little bit, to find some guys to come in and spell those guys, to give them a breather, that kind of deal," Newberry said. "We're still searching for that."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.