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Different pads: Anderson thriving after picking baseball over football

Photo: Andrew McMurtrie. Atlanta Crackers catcher Landon Anderson, a Buford graduate, is headed to Georgia State in the fall.

Photo: Andrew McMurtrie. Atlanta Crackers catcher Landon Anderson, a Buford graduate, is headed to Georgia State in the fall.

NORCROSS -- Landon Anderson has been used to wearing a lot of equipment throughout his athletic career.

For several years, the former two-sport standout at Buford High School envisioned himself in football pads more often than he did wearing the catching equipment he wore playing baseball.

But after a strong two years at Gordon College in Barnesville, the 2008 Buford grad is looking at his future a lot differently now.

With a strong summer playing for the Norcross-based Atlanta Crackers of the collegiate wood bat Sunbelt Baseball League nearly complete, Anderson's baseball career is about to take another step forward to Division I as he prepares to suit up for Georgia State in the fall.

"Coming up through middle school, I definitely saw myself as a football player," Anderson said. "That's what I was always around -- playing GFL football and watching college football on Saturdays. That's kind of what I grew up around."

Not that he didn't have a good baseball career at Buford.

Over three varsity seasons -- most of which spent starting behind the plate for the Wolves -- Anderson posted a .335 career batting average with five home runs and 50 RBIs over 182 at bats, which included tying for the Wolves' team lead in home runs his junior and senior seasons and leading the team in RBIs both years.

It's just that his football numbers were far more eye-catching -- a junior season that produced 108 combined tackles and a sack and a senior season that saw him finish second in the county with 164 tackles, plus four sacks and an interception, in being named second-team All-County by the Daily Post.

But standing just 5-foot-9 and weighing only 200 pounds, there weren't as many opportunities for Anderson to continue playing on the college level as he would have preferred.

"My junior year, I was still looking football," Anderson said. "Senior year was the recruiting process started and I started seeing how my height was hurting me.

"I talked with Georgia Southern and Valdosta State. And there were some (Division) III schools up in Virginia. It just felt right (playing baseball)."

It's a decision he has definitely not regretted.

Since making the move fulltime to baseball, Anderson has blossomed in two seasons at Gordon.

After hitting .284 with four homers, 39 RBIs and an .837 OPS as a freshman, he made an even bigger jump as a sophomore this past spring, hitting .392 with three homers, 28 RBIs and a 1.019 OPS, plus throwing out 20 of 57 (26 percent) attempted basestealers to earn Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association All-Region honors.

"It had to be my mental approach of the game," Anderson said of what he took the most out of his two seasons at Gordon. "Knowing how to take each at bat in certain situations. I knew if I went to junior college, that was what was going to launch me to the next level."

Anderson's experience with the Highlanders has definitely launched him to Division I as he is expected to challenge for the starting catcher job for a Georgia State program that has similarly been on the rise the last three seasons.

But at least one figure from Anderson's past believes the key to his success lies in his beginnings at Buford, and upbringing in both baseball and football.

"What makes him special is that he was a warrior on both (baseball and football) fields," Buford baseball coach Tony Wolfe said of Anderson. "He cracked two vertebrae in his back in his senior year, and we didn't really find out about (how serious it was) until after the season. But he fought through it."

That kind of toughness is a trait Anderson surely learned as a hard-hitting linebacker while helping the Wolves to the first two of their current run of four straight Class AA state football championships.

It has also endeared Anderson to Kevin Meistickle, who has seen how it translates to the baseball field as the rising junior earned a trip to the Sun Belt Baseball League All-Star Game by hitting .247 with 11 RBIs (tied for fourth on the team) and a .990 fielding percentage in 19 games with the Crackers this summer.

"The reason he's here is because Georgia State called and told us they had a catcher they wanted to play (summer ball)," Meistickle said. "I did some checking on him, and I thought he could fit in. But he's fit in even better than I thought he would.

"It's true (he was known more for football in high school) in a way, but you can see where he brings the whole football mentality to baseball. It's been great having him around."

That football mentality is something Anderson says comes in handy, especially given how physical the catching position is.

"You really do kind of have to (have a football-like mentality as a catcher)," Anderson said. "There are times in games where you're like, 'I don't know if I can go on.' Having a football mentality definitely puts an edge on you and helps you out."