IOWA CITY — The Facebook name is Anthony Anderson Hitchens. The two last names tell a story.
It’s not the whole story, because you’re just now really getting to know Hitchens, the University of Iowa linebacker who, after two years of pushing and perseverance, has broken through to the starting lineup. Through three weeks, the 6-1, 224-pound junior leads the Big Ten and is fourth in the nation with 12.3 tackles a game.
Hitchens stood up and pinned Northern Iowa running back David Johnson last week. The ball came out, but review wiped out the fumble. It didn’t drown out the “oh and ah” the hit drew from the Kinnick Stadium crowd.
His coach said the tackle numbers are nice, but there’s still work to do.
“He had a couple of plays, I think, he would like to have back, and closing that gap is what we’re focused on right now,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s not that everybody doesn’t have a couple plays they would like to have back, but that’s what we’re trying to do, raise up that speed of reaction and then if he delivers the knock‑out punch at the end, too, we’re all for those. That’s a good thing.”
His family is totally digging the tackle numbers.
“They keep me aware, but I’m not that type of guy to go searching on the internet, but yeah, my family is, not me as much,” Hitchens said when asked if he had any idea on the tackles. “I’ll usually get a text message after the game. My mom also calls me before and after the game. She puts stuff on my Facebook all the time. I try to ignore it. I’m just trying to focus on getting better right now.”
Repeat, the family is totally digging the tackle numbers.
“Ooh, I know!” Amy Anderson said. “I get tears every time I see him on a Big Ten field. It’s so amazing when you see one of your children realize their dreams.”
Anthony Anderson Hitchens has a lot of family eyeing those tackles.
There’s his mom and dad, Norma and Anthony Hitchens. There’s also the Anderson family, who took Anthony in during a rough patch as a seventh grader.
This is Lorain, Ohio, a small community on Lake Erie, about 20 minutes from Cleveland.
“Our fun thing was in our neighborhood, everyone knew everyone and we played backyard football and stuff like that,” Hitchens said. “That’s about it. We just hung out with each other.”
Hitchens was a star at Clearview High School. He rushed for 3,864 yards and 52 TDs, setting school records for points in a season and career and most career yards. He did it after finding solid footing in the Anderson household, which now includes five boys (two Anderson boys and three live-in sons).
“The Anderson family took him in [Hitchens] at a pretty young age, probably about 12 or 13,” Clearview coach Mike Collier said. “They really gave him a little better life. He’s still in touch with his mom, but he lived with that family. It’s kind of like the ‘Blind Side,’ a feel-good story.”
Anthony has a relationship with his birth mother, but he also has Amy Anderson and the entire Anderson support system, which is five brothers — the Anderson’s biological sons Zachary and Chad and James Washington (who plays football at Muskingum University) and Anthony Alston, the newest member of the family who moved in recently after his adoptive mom was stricken ill.
“We’ve all been around each other,” Amy said. “I’ve heard Anthony introduce me as his ‘other mother’ and his mom. We’re all very close. There’s no animosity. One thing I know is he considers Brad his dad.”
Brad Anderson is Amy’s husband. He is very much “of” Lorain. He coached youth baseball. He played football for Clearview and has sons and more sons who play or played for the Clippers.
While in the hospital for a kidney stone, Brad Anderson was diagnosed with non-alcoholic cirrhosis in 2008. The family needed to raise money to qualify for the liver transplant list. Lorain embraced the Andersons, with everything from a car show benefit to a teacher of the year donating half of the bonus check.
Anderson, who’s son Chad is a running back/linebacker — just like Anthony — at Clearview this fall, underwent a 10-hour surgery for a liver transplant in August, when Hitchens was in the middle of camp. That didn’t matter. Iowa coaches sent Anthony home to be with his family.
After the first half of the Aug. 11 scrimmage, Hitchens flew back to Lorain. The family spent a nice quiet Saturday night together, they went to church on Sunday and then Brad went in for the surgery. Anthony and James were able to stay through the next Tuesday before they had to return to their teams.
“The Iowa coaches were excellent, they called the whole time wanting to know how Brad was,” Amy said. “We didn’t want to get in the way of Anthony’s dreams, but we were so happy to have him home.”
Anthony was able to break away from Iowa City after school finished in May. On the Brad Anderson Fund Facebook page, Brad offered this May 15 entry:
“What an amazing feeling to have all 5 of our boys under one roof again! At 3:30 am Anthony Hitchens crawled in bed between me and Amy and talked for over an hour! Where there is LOVE, there is LIFE! ♥”
The Brad Anderson Fund website tells the story. In September 2005, Zach Anderson befriended Hitchens, a football teammate. The Andersons drove a group of players to practice, Hitchens included. The relationship grew from there.
“The family is a great, to do what they’ve done for the community,” Collier said. “They’ve taken kids in. Mrs. Anderson does a lot working for the community [a neighborhood center in Elryia] and does a lot with kids.”
With Anthony Hitchens, it started very simply.
“He started spending school nights with us and one night he said, ‘Hey, I think I’d like to live with you,’ ” Amy said. “We just said, ‘OK.’ It really was that simple.”
The Andersons took Hitchens in. There was no adoption or guardianship. There is love.
“We consider all the boys our sons,” Amy said. “Biology doesn’t mean we can’t love them like our sons, and we do.”
It was cramped in their home. Amy said the bathroom situation was insane, but they made it work because of the bond. Part of the fundraising for Brad’s surgery included a T-shirt that read exactly what he wrote on that “welcome home, Anthony” Facebook post, “Where there is LOVE, there is LIFE!”
Hitchens also is very much “of” the Lorain community. He still goes back and talks to Collier’s team. He also plays host to Iowa teammates, inviting B.J. Lowery, Kevonte Martin-Manley and Carl Davis into the family home.
“I’ve had Anthony talk to the varsity a bunch of times, giving them a heads up on what they need to improve on,” Collier said. “He does a great job of passing on what he’s learned. He lets them know it’s not easy, that you just don’t walk through it. You have to work at it and do the right things and be a leader in the community while you’re doing it.”
It’s been an exciting fall for Hitchens, who Amy calls the “shyest” of her sons. On Sept. 2, Brad returned home from the hospital and is recovering.
If you weigh the fact that his father had a liver transplant while he sweated his way through August two-a-days, trying to secure his spot as a starter with the Hawkeyes, yes, it does make Anthony Anderson Hitchens’ start to the season, and his tackle numbers, pretty impressive.