Look at him now.
The chiseled arms sticking out from under the short sleeves that cling just below the shoulder pads tell the tale for Sandwich’s Parker Anderson on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
The 5-foot-7, 175-pound senior who plays running back and linebacker is put together, and it’s no shock to later learn that Anderson is more than just a football player.
“He’s actually a world class powerlifter,” Sandwich coach Kris Cassie said of Anderson. “He set a world record for bench press in his age and weight class.”
Competing this summer at 181, Anderson benched 330 on the way to finishing second in the USA Powerlifting Nationals, a competition that also includes squats and dead lifts.
He’s maxed out in those two events at 500, but Anderson’s thoughts this day are a long way from the world championships he qualified for that will be held this fall in Great Britain.
More importantly, Sandwich is back, beating Manteno 34-14 at home in the season opener.
It was a special day, especially considering Sandwich canceled its varsity season in 2022 due to a lack of numbers. The freshman-sophomore team did play, going 8-1.
“This is really big for us and the town,” Anderson said. “It will boost confidence because the last varsity win here was Week 8 of the 2019 season.
“The last time Sandwich won a varsity game I was the ball boy. I was in middle school.”
Caught in the middle, Anderson and fellow senior Brodie Case played last fall for the Illinois Crusaders, a club team made up primarily of home-schooled students. Four others on the current team didn’t play.
“It was really hard on me, not being able to play for my high school,” Anderson said. “I based my whole life around this program since I was 5. It was really hard for a while, especially because of how close I was with coach Cassie.
“It’s great being back here.”
That feeling was mutual for Cassie, who has taught at Sandwich and made the community his home for the past 23 years.
The Mount Prospect graduate was hired by former wrestling coach/administrator Lon Gerrish out of Northern Illinois because of his background in physical education and weight lifting.
The presence of Cassie and his wife Becky, who serves as president of the school’s sports boosters, has been a boon, in particular during recent tough times.
Cassie’s late uncle Jim Jr., who lived in Michigan, left his estate to form a family foundation that Kris oversees.
He can’t spend it on himself, but he must do charitable work with the money. It has bestowed $100,000 for the football stadium’s sparkling new scoreboard, plus a $30,000 donation that helped provide a much-needed remodel of the school’s weight room.
Local scoreboard sponsors are also helping the boosters give back to the program.
“There’s been a tremendous sense of pride,” Cassie said. “It’s changed the mentality.”
It showed Saturday on the field with a strong performance in the second half.
Anderson’s 2-yard touchdown broke open a 14-14 tie in the third quarter. Caleb Jones’ 24-yard interception return for a TD extended the lead, and Anderson’s 15-yard TD run late locked it up.
“He looks a little different from the ball boy days,” Cassie said of Anderson. “His work ethic is so phenomenal. He’s so freaking strong. He wore them down.”
Junior running back Simeion Harris had 20 carries for 235 yards and scored twice early.
“We played much more fundamentally sound on defense in the second half,” Cassie said.
Anderson wasn’t surprised.
“Guys like Harris, Jones, Nick Michalek and Brady Behringer, the two sophomores, put in just as much work as I do,” Anderson said. “Coach Cassie and his wife made the weight room happen. That’s why we’re doing this.”
He doesn’t think he’ll make it to Great Britain, either.
“It’s about the time playoffs start for my senior season here,” Anderson said. “I’ll just go to worlds next year.”