Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson speaks to reporters in Santa Clara on Tuesday.  (Jeff Chiu/AP)

Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson speaks to reporters in Santa Clara on Tuesday. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

Former Cal running back, Vallejo native keeps defying odds

The distance Cortelle Javon Anderson traveled should not be measured in distance — practicing for Super Bowl 50, he is only 70 miles from his hometown of Vallejo — but in achievement. He’s done what few beyond Anderson or his mother believed was possible in the classroom or on the football field.

It’s a tough, industrial community, Vallejo, filled with the offspring of workers — many African-American, many from the South — who came to work in the Mare Island shipyards during World War II. The headlines from Vallejo these days too often are negative ones dealing with crime or unemployment.

The city has had its sporting heroes. The late Dick Bass, a Pro Bowl running back, went from Vallejo to what now is University of Pacific and then the Los Angeles Rams. Bill Buckner, involved in that most infamous of errors in the 1986 World Series, is from Vallejo. And baseball pitcher CC Sabathia. So  too Anderson, known as C.J., who rushed for a game-high 72 yards in the Denver Broncos’ win over New England in the AFC Championship Game.

There’s an understandable edginess to Anderson. That often is a requisite for those who battle against the odds, as Anderson has done. Indeed, he was a star at Bethel High, but his grades were not high enough to get him a scholarship at any major college program, particularly Cal. He would find a way, enrolling at Laney, the community college in Oakland, and then, after averaging eight yards a carry, averaging high enough in grades to transfer when academically eligible.

He started only two games the two years (2011-12) he was at Cal, although he did rush for nearly 800 yards as a senior. He went undrafted and signed as a free agent with the Broncos in 2013.

After the AFC title game, another Bay Area product, the Patriots’ Tom Brady, who was drafted in the sixth round, congratulated Anderson in an Instagram post, telling him, “C.J., way to fight and prove everybody wrong. You belong in this league, and you’re one hell of a player. I love the way you run. Keep climbing to be great.”

Anderson has never stopped climbing. Or learning. Or showing appreciation to those who never turned away, such as Brady. In his own Instagram post, Anderson said, “I know a lot of people hate [Brady] but man when he was pick 199 and was overlooked he inspired me I was undrafted and overcame the odds so bless what he told me at the end of the game.”

Overcoming the odds is what C.J.’s life has been about. He and his two brothers were raised by a single mother, Neva Craig.  “Because I’ve always been undersized since Pop Warner, I had to keep proving myself,” said the 5-foot-8 Anderson.

The other day during the Broncos’ interview session, Anderson gave his mom credit for his success. “It wasn’t easy,” he said, “but she was with me all the way. I always knew she was there.”

Interestingly, Neva Craig is a Raiders fan, as was Anderson as he grew up. His loyalty has changed. Hers has not when the Broncos face Oakland. But now, it’s the Panthers.

“I’m having fun out here,” said C.J., an offensive player being a bit less defensive in talking to reporters. “I’m just doing what I’m doing, picking the right spots, making the right reads.”

Obviously he was talking about football. But those observations were true at Laney. He would take a predawn bus from Vallejo for spring workouts. He would connect with philosophy professor Amir Sabzvary, showing a different side. “I’d sit there and soak up everything. He [the pro] helped me a lot.”

That’s what maturing is all about, certainly, expanding one’s horizons, gaining confidence. And, if you’re also a running back, gaining yards.

“We lost a Super Bowl two years ago,” said Anderson, referring to the defeat by Seattle, “and it’s something not to be talked about. We’ve got to go out there and do what we have to do.”

For Anderson, that’s hardly anything unusual. He keeps doing what he’s had to do, even when others never thought he could.

Art Spanderbethel highbill bucknerCalCal BearsCal footballCC Sabathiacj andersondick basslaneymare island shipyardsneva craigNFLOaklandVallejo

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Quarterback Nick Mullens is expected to get his third straight start Sunday. Mullens is 46 of 73 for 538 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions in his other two starts this season. <ins>(Chris Victorio / Special to S.F. Examiner).</ins>
49ers trying to turn season around in Sunday’s prime-time faceoff with the Rams

49ers at Rams When: Sunday, 1:05 p.m. Where: SoFi Stadium, Inglewood TV:… Continue reading

Psilocybin magic mushrooms (Shutterstock)
‘Magic mushrooms’ moving into the mainstream

Efforts to decriminalize psychedelics could follow several different paths

Those who stick around San Francisco on long holiday weekends can enjoy a slower pace, uncrowded streets and beloved institutions like cable cars. <ins>(Kevin Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
These empty San Francisco streets: A holiday dream

We’re here because we can be, and because we have nowhere else to be

The 2020 Census has concluded taking responses sooner than expected. (Courtesy photo)
What does California have to lose if undocumented immigrants are excluded from the census?

By Kim Bojórquez The Sacramento Bee If The U.S. Supreme Court rules… Continue reading

It’s disheartening to see that Bill Graham Civic’s marquee isn’t announcing upcoming concerts. (Screenshot/Bill Graham Civic Twitter)
A cruise through The City with the ghosts of rides past

I take my time and don’t even mind the occasional traffic jams

Most Read