From a young age, Noah Anderson did what is often asked of the biggest kids in football. He toiled as a lineman and did the proverbial dirty work, blocking for his quarterback, clearing space for faster teammates, going largely unnoticed.

He was good at it too, but he got no glory.

In rugby, he’s had a different experience.

“I get to handle the ball, make tackles and do what everyone else gets to do in football,” he said. “The fun stuff.”

The local 6-foot-5-inch athlete will pursue his love of rugby when he joins the men’s club team at Stanford University in the fall of 2016.

First though, he’s taking a year off to unwind after a whirlwind career at Santa Monica High School during which he played three sports while taking numerous Advanced Placement classes.

“It’s just to decompress,” he said, although he added that he plans to work and take a few online classes. “Samohi was really intense, so I wanted to give myself time to let my body and mind relax before I go into an intense environment at Stanford.”

Anderson also considered UCLA and California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, but he knew right away where he wanted to go to college when he was accepted to Stanford in December.

The prestigious Bay Area private school, which whittled down 42,167 applicants into last year’s freshman class of 1,678 students, offered him what was an appealing balance of academics and athletics, while allowing him to stay in California.

Anderson plans to study material science and engineering, and said he hopes to pursue a career in research and development.

Meanwhile, he’s looking forward to playing the sport he’s loved since his father, who played collegiate rugby at the University of Maryland, introduced him to when he was 10-years-old.

Anderson played football for three years at Samohi, earning all-CIF honorable mention in 2012 as an offensive lineman, but his career on the gridiron was set aside after he suffered multiple concussions.

Anderson sees football and rugby as radically different in their approaches to dealing with injuries, criticizing the former for encouraging a culture of playing through them and, “pretending you’re OK.”

He added that the sports’ different philosophies are reflected in their respective equipment.

“The football pads are weapons,” he said. “They’re not protective. They give you the confidence to hurl your head into people. We don’t have these giant pads [in rugby]. If you run into a big dude with your forehead playing rugby, you’re going to feel it and you’re not going to do it again.”

The troubling experiences he had in football made Anderson even more grateful for his time on the Santa Monica Rugby Club’s youth team, which featured several Samohi students. He developed his skills at the lock and No. 8 positions, and he expects to play mostly as a lock when he enters the collegiate ranks.

Anderson will head to Stanford with fond rugby memories. He recalled one triumph in particular this past May at the Pacific Coast Cup championships in San Diego, which featured talented teams from three states.

Overcoming a variety of setbacks, including multiple coaching changes, Santa Monica came together to upset a top Arizona team.

“They had their full track suits and matching headphones, and we’re pulling up in two minivans wearing T-shirts,” Anderson said. “That was awesome.”

Photo credit:Elizabeth Michalak

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