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An Ode to Otis

Reflecting on the late Otis Anderson

Central Florida v Florida Atlantic
UCF RB Otis Anderson
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Otis Anderson Jr. was 23 years old. No one should have to be remembered at 23 years old.

The alleged details of why and how Otis was taken from this world are heinous and infuriating, and I just want to take the rest of this blank slate in front of me and let a stream of curse words spill upon the page. Tuesday was nothing but shock and fury and sadness and pain….

[exhale]

But that’s not why I want to be here right now. While all we have left are memories, I would argue that beyond McKenzie Milton, no player has created more indelible moments on the field during this recent gilded age of UCF football than Otis Anderson Jr.

Before Mike Hughes elevated the 2017 Black Friday game versus South Florida to iconic status, Anderson’s late touchdown on a screen pass probably made the ground beneath the Bounce House register on the Richter scale. After the game, “crazy” is how Otis described the scene that night.

“I kind of sat back and looked at the stands and then I realized I was a freshman. This is the biggest game I have played in my life,” he said.

It was Anderson who put the final points on the board in double overtime of the AAC Championship Game one week later. Otis got absolutely stonewalled on that second-down carry from the 1, but he just kept fighting and churned away to put the Knights ahead to stay, 62-55. Otis may have been listed at about 175 pounds, but that always belied his determined style of play. He had fantastic balance, and ankle tackles were simply a bad idea.

One year later, the man known as “Juice” jump-started UCF’s comeback in the 2018 conference title game by getting behind the defense for a 54-yard TD reception early in the second half. The play was great. The “deuces” pose was better. You can hang that in the Louvre.

Otis’ famous “deuces” pose
Associated Press

Just make sure you put it next to this breathtaking work of art from 2019.

“I didn’t know that [the FAU defender] actually lunged forward to be able to hit me,” Anderson said a few days later. “I thought he kind of just missed and fell to the ground.

“I think that’s going to be a legendary picture. I think that’s going to be a picture that people use for a very long time.”

Otis could have done more on the field, too. It’s odd to say that about a player who ranks among the program’s top 10 in rushing yards, all-purpose yards, and total touchdowns, but there were certainly times during the Heupel era when it felt like UCF was underutilizing Anderson’s dual-threat abilities.

He was a triple threat when you add in his return skills. Remember his punt return at Pitt, where he tried to signal to his teammates who to block, but then outran all of those blockers, limboed under the punter’s arm, and pirouetted out of another tackle for an 87-yard house call?

“He could probably play corner also,” running backs coach Anthony Tucker said in 2020.

Quadruple threat!

“Or he could go play the nickel.”

Quintuple threat!

Otis couldn’t just do it all; he knew it all as well. Tucker said in 2019 that Anderson was the smartest player on offense.

“He knows what everybody’s doing. He can tell you what the quarterback reads are. He can draw up things with what’s going on up front with the O-line. He understands every concept in the pass game.”

Chatting with Otis was enjoyable because he would frequently provide more than coachspeak. Many players never want to come out of their shells when talking to the media or say something that may rock the boat, but Anderson regularly spoke with genuine honesty.

After losing that Pitt game, which snapped UCF’s 25-game regular-season winning streak: “Words can’t explain it. I grew up a sore loser. … We’re pissed.”

Later that year, on if it feels weird to play the Gasparilla Bowl in Raymond James Stadium, the home of your rivals: “It does, but I don’t think we have to worry about them too much until next year. We won our battle. That’s something that will be left for them to think about for the next 300-and-whatever days.”

After a remark like that, you would see a little shine in Otis’ eyes as bright as the grill that often highlighted his smile.

The last time I spoke with Otis was during a Zoom press conference prior to the Temple game in November 2020. He was asked during the scrum about how his mother, Denise, was campaigning hard on social media for her son to win a national award that honors the most versatile player in college football.

“Growing up, me and my mom, we’ve always been really tight. She’s always been a huge supporter of me. She used to go to my football games knowing she had to go to work at night. She used to make the sacrifice to not take a nap to be able to watch me play, so we’ve always been really tight. … She was the father figure at times. I think her being tough on me and me showing that I listen is really making her proud. I think that’s why she is so adamant on social media about me now.”

It’s tough to read those words now.

Twenty-fucking-three.

[exhale]

It is terrible that all we have are memories. But we do have a lot to remember. Much more than this entry can list and much more than one outside observer can relay. Be thankful for the joy that Otis Anderson Jr. provided. Let the moments he created resonate throughout UCF and comfort all of us.

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