The 2021 class is lineman-heavy for high school football in Michigan and Detroit Cass Tech center Raheem Anderson takes a back seat to nobody.
Clarkston two-way lineman Rocco Spindler is ranked the No. 2 guard in the country by the 247Sports Composite and Belleville two-way lineman Damon Payne is the No. 1 defensive tackle in the nation.
And don’t forget Clarkston four-star tackle Garrett Dellinger, Oak Park four-star tackle Rayshaun Benny and Sterling Heights Stevenson four-star tackle Giovanni El-Hadi.
Anderson, ranked the No. 3 center nationally by 247Sports and No. 2 by Rivals, committed to Michigan April 12, picking the Wolverines over national champion LSU, Georgia and several other powers.
Anderson had an outstanding junior year and is looking to build on that this fall before moving on to Michigan, where he could soon be filling the shoes of former Wolverines All-American center Cesar Ruiz, who was the first-round pick of the Saints (No. 24 overall) in last month’s NFL Draft.
Ruiz, not long ago, was the top-rated high school center who went on to play 10 games his freshman year for the Wolverines, then started all 13 games his sophomore and junior seasons before entering the draft.
Does Anderson feel any pressure filling the shoes of Ruiz?
“They had four linemen drafted, and Cesar was the No. 1 center off the board, so I know the development part that Michigan provided for him and the rest of their linemen,” said Anderson, who has a 4.1 grade-point average and plans to major in electrical engineering. “I don’t feel any amount of pressure because I know my capabilities, I know how hard I work and that I can get the job done.
“It was all about academics for me – that and their ability to get players to the next level. I’ve been talking to the coaches since my freshman year, really building relationships, so that was really it, how I was able to make my decisions, based off relationships, based off of how coaches talk to the players, how they treat them like family.”
Michigan had four offensive linemen picked in the draft with guard Ben Bredeson taken in the fourth round by the Ravens, former Cass Tech standout guard Michael Onwenu grabbed in the sixth round by New England, and tackle Jon Runyan in the sixth round by the Packers.
Onwenu helped Anderson with his decision, as did Belleville defensive back Andre Seldon, who enrolled early at Michigan in January.
“I talked to players and alumni (of Cass Tech), people I’m familiar with and it helped narrow it down to Michigan, especially from the academic standpoint,” Anderson said. “The people I talked to the most was Michael Onwenu and Andre Seldon. I talked to Andre mostly about the academics and how he adjusted into the program since he graduated early. I talked to him about how he adjusted to the classes, the workload, how the academic environment was treating him.”
Anderson said he took a trip to LSU in early March, adding that Georgia came on late, offering him just two weeks before he committed to Michigan.
“LSU, it’s a college town (Baton Rouge) and so it was good energy there,” Anderson said. “I talked to the O-line coach (James Cregg) and (head) coach Ed Orgeron. They were just talking to me about how it would be a great fit for me, and how they had Lloyd Cushenberry and how he was going to the draft (third-round pick by Broncos).
“Really, I was interested in everybody that was interested in me, but I really looked at the academics, and playing close to home played a role too. I could play right away, but that really depends of my work ethic, how hard I work.”
Anderson credits Cass Tech offensive line coaches William Sassie and Nick Moran for his development. He will be the first offensive lineman at Cass Tech that has started all four years when his senior year starts in late August. He has been a captain since his sophomore season.
Cass Tech’s 2019 season didn’t start the way Anderson wanted, but the Technicians did earn a state playoff appearance for the 12th straight year with a Week No. 9 49-14 rout of Clarkston to sneak in at 5-4, then won the district title with a 46-28 upset of Dearborn Fordson before a 9-7 loss to Sterling Heights Stevenson in the Division 1 regional final.
“We were kind of a young team, started out rough, then the Monday before the Clarkston game we had a talk with one of our vice-principals. Mr. Henderson talked to us about how we had to get our act straight; that opened our eyes as a team,” Anderson said. “He (Henderson) comes to the games, but is not involved in football and just hearing his perspective brought us together. We competed well in practice and then we beat them (Clarkston).
“We were very focused before the game. Sure we had pressure, but knew if we played as a team we’d be fine and we had a great game. That gave us momentum, got us in the playoffs and then we rode the wave, rode the momentum.”
Anderson gained valuable experience during the run while going up against Spindler in a pressure-packed situation against Clarkston, which won the state title in 2017 and was state runnerup in 2018, and then Stevenson and El-Hadi, who will be his teammate at Michigan.
“It was a great opportunity to go up against better competition since Rocco (Spindler) and Giovanni (El-Hadi) were the best D-tackles I went up against all season,” Anderson said. “Rocco was great competition, then when we went up against Giovanni, he was giving our guards some real problems, so it helped build the level of competitiveness between me and my guards.”
Stevenson coach Justin Newcomb knew he was going up against a strong, talented competitor in Anderson.
“He commands the center of the formation and does a great job of getting the O-line in the right run fit and the right count system that they utilize,” said Newcomb of Anderson. “He’s dominant and we tried to stay away from him and attack the edges from outside-in instead of working from inside-out because we were going to be outmatched.”
Thomas Wilcher, who has guided Cass Tech to state championships in 2011, ’12 and ’16, believes Anderson will be ready to get on the field and compete at The Big House.
“I think that the most important thing for me is that he learned how to call the plays, learned different blocking schemes to help the whole line out,” said Wilcher of Anderson. “He was like a coach on the field for us. He cut weight and built muscle too. He’s now 6-3 and a half and 300, 305.
“I think he’s going to be a lot better because we’ve been working on increased footwork and the pulling drills, so he’s going to be able to pull, his footwork will be better and he’s going to work on his base also. Right now, we’re creating a better core strength. William Sassie and Nick Moran have done a great job working with him.”
Cass Tech failed to reach the PSL title game last year but is expected to challenge Detroit King for the championship this season with Anderson returning, along with the King twins, Kalen (defensive back/receiver) and Kobe (linebacker/running back), who committed to Penn State, defensive tackle Doran Ray and defensive end Clarence Wilson, who both committed to Toledo.