By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
SEC Outdoor Championships Head To Baton Rouge This Week
(Photo by Kayla Leonard)
ATHENS, Ga. – Braydon Anderson isn’t your typical college sophomore.
And that’s just fine with him.
Anderson, age 22, is in his second year as a javelin thrower at the University of Georgia after participating in a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Boise, Idaho. His mission took place following graduation from Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Ga.
It was an experience that has proven invaluable for the true sophomore.
“It was a full-time mission,” Anderson said. “Every day, I had to put on a white shirt and tie, a nice pair of slacks and polished shoes and found people who wanted to improve their lives. We taught them about Jesus Christ. It really helped me as an individual because I lived by a very strict schedule. Every morning, I was up at 6:30, studied scriptures for an hour and was out the door serving and finding service projects and people to speak to. I got back to my apartment at 9:30 each night and planned for the next day.”
It was an exercise in discipline that has served Anderson well in his transition to college.
“Living away from home prior to college was huge because I was really able to mature and do things on my own,” Anderson said. “Just the structure and being able to focus on other people helped me discover who I was as an individual and helped me understand my goals and aspirations in life.”
Georgia throws coach Don Babbitt has noticed the effect on Anderson and knows what a positive impact his pupil has had on his fellow teammates.
“He’s a really great guy,” Babbitt said. “He’s very disciplined and a really likeable guy. He’s always positive; he has rubbed off well on the rest of his teammates and the team in general. He’s a guy who has always got a smile on his face and you always feel good when you’re around him.”
Anderson’s path to Georgia might seem atypical, but his path to the university and his current event are even more remarkable.
Towering at 6-foot-8, Anderson had primarily been a football and basketball player in high school, and began participating in track and field to stay in shape during the offseason of those sports. He quickly gravitated to the throws, where he threw the shot put and discus
“My first year in track, I took third in the discus at the state level and just really succeeded,” Anderson said. “I stuck with it and went to the Nike Outdoor Championship and the Junior Olympics, where I saw people throwing the javelin. It was love at first sight when I saw people throwing the javelin.”
That summer, Anderson’s mother, Sheri, was browsing the Internet when she read that Babbitt was hosting a throws camp in Athens. She thought it would be perfect for her son.
There was only one problem – the camp was more than halfway over. But, thought Sheri, she would give it a try.
“Camp had already started and it was halfway through, but my mom called in and asked if I could come participate even though I would be late,” Anderson said. “They consented, I came over here and that was my first exposure to Coach Babbitt.”
That was also his first exposure to the javelin and, according to Babbitt, he was a natural.
“I introduced him to the javelin at one of our track and field camps and he took to it right away,” Babbitt said. “He had a loose arm and it just came naturally to him. A lot of people, when they’re coming out of football and basketball, they’re used to throwing in a certain direction, so they tend to tighten up on their motion. The javelin is more of a lose sling, so you have to have a looser arm. I was impressed with how quick he picked it up; he was able to do that right away and apply a bit of power to it.”
Anderson may not have been the first to arrive at camp that year, but he certainly made an impression on Babbitt, who knew he wanted to bring the talented thrower to his roster.
“In 2008, Coach invited me here on an official visit,” Anderson said. “We came and toured Georgia. My mom and I both loved the facilities and the organization, and really liked Coach Babbitt and how he could recognize raw talent. At the end, we sat down in his office and talked to him. He told me that he wanted me to come throw for him and have me be a part of the program.”
But it wasn’t that simple. In Anderson’s faith, it is customary to begin a mission at the age of 19. He told Babbitt of his plans but expressed his desire to later return to Georgia to throw.
For Babbitt, who was from Santa Monica, Calif., and had spent his entire career on the West Coast before embarking on Athens in 1996, he was familiar with athletes who had participated in similar missions.
“I’m from the West Coast, so I’m probably more used to Mormon missions,” Babbitt said. “He told me he was planning on going on a mission and it wasn’t that much of a surprise. I hadn’t personally had an athlete do something like that before, but I had seen situations like that and it wasn’t an issue for me. I knew the talent was there and he had an option to do the mission right out of high school. I told him that when he came back, we’d be waiting for him.”
Anderson and Babbitt kept in touch and, in the end, Anderson decided to attend Georgia following the completion of his mission.
“I went and served my mission and got other offers for track and field over the course of the mission, but Coach Babbitt and I kept in touch,” Anderson said. “At the end of my mission, I threw up a prayer and decided I wanted to come to Georgia. One of the biggest reasons is that it’s close to my family in Marietta. I e-mailed coach Babbitt to see if the offer still stood. It seemed like it was a long wait, but he e-mailed me back and said ‘absolutely’ and that he looked forward to me coming to Georgia.”
Even though Anderson was light years ahead of some of his teammates when it came to life experience and discipline, he arrived in the Classic City behind the curve when it came to his readiness for athletic competition.
“It was a full-time mission, so I didn’t have time to hit the weight room or do any formal training,” Anderson said. “Doing pushups and pull-ups were about the extent of the training I could do while I was on my mission. Coming back was very much a start from scratch.”
It was a difficult transition, but one that Babbitt was expecting.
“One of our trainers back then, who was originally from BYU, was telling me about what they have to do on the missions,” Babbitt said. “You don’t get to do too much as far as working out, so I wasn’t expecting him to come here in great shape. I was expecting it to be the equivalent of taking two years off. I told him to just come in, get some experience and whatever physical condition he had, we would just work on it and build up from there.”
Anderson was a bit concerned what his new teammates would think. It was clear he wouldn’t be able to match their efforts in the weight room. But what he found was that he had nothing to worry about.
“I expressed my concern about the weight room to my teammates,” Anderson said. “Everybody knew that I wasn’t lifting as much as everyone else and I wasn’t in as good of shape. But my teammates were really encouraging to me. Brian Moore, who is the leading javelin thrower on our team, encouraged me and expressed his love for me. He understood that I had a unique situation, but still would be able to because of my talent. He just told me to let it come and let it develop. He encouraged me to be patient with myself and my improvement.”
Anderson’s preparation for the 2011 season was cut even shorter by his arrival just before the beginning of the track and field season.
“His first year, it was just about improvements and getting experience,” Babbitt said. “He came in mid-year too because he finished his mission in early December. He was a mid-year enrollee and didn’t get much preparation to start last season. He did quite well and improved nicely. He now has some training behind him.”
Anderson finished third at last year’s Southeastern Conference Outdoor Championships in the javelin with the longest throw of his career to that point at 218-2. It was the highlight of a freshman season full of steady and impressive improvement.
Heading into the SEC Outdoor Championships, which take place this Thursday through Sunday in Baton Rouge, La., Anderson currently ranks among the top-40 javelin throwers nationally and among the top 10 in the SEC.
“This season has been going pretty good,” Anderson said. “I’ve improved on my marks from last year and am moving forward. We have a great throwing squad and all our throwers are doing really good and that’s been encouraging. All of us as a group have been performing well.”
Anderson’s time in Idaho helped him realized the path he wanted to pursue in his life. He’s a psychology major and wants to spend his time helping others.
“Serving the mission helped me in that I spent two years where I was able to hang up my personal concerns, and my own wants and needs,” Anderson said. “We had to pay our own way, and I didn’t make money while I was out there or go to school. Because of that I was able to just worry about the people I was serving in Boise and make their concerns my top priority. I’m really interested in psychology counseling and therapy and, one thing I want to do is be a juvenile probation officer. I just want to be able to help people and put their concerns above my own to make a difference.”
According to Babbitt, there’s no limit to what Anderson can accomplish in life.
“I think as a person, his potential is unlimited,” Babbitt said. “He’s a nice, personable guy, a really diligent worker and I see those qualities taking him as far as he wants to go in life. With regards to throwing, he’s still very new at the sport and he’s just touching the tip of the iceberg in terms of what he can learn. I think he’s a guy that can make it to nationals and be an All-American. I see him becoming a darn good javelin thrower on the national stage.”