Football a journey for family of North Dakota State Bison running back Bruce Andersons

FARGO -- It's 1,838 miles between the Anderson residence in Ruskin, Fla., and Fargo. Then again, mileage is a relative term for North Dakota State running back Bruce Anderson, who has virtually lived around the world.It took a little searching of...

North Dakota State's Bruce Anderson takes a kickoff 100-yards for a touchdown during the FCS playoffs against Montana. David Samson / The Forum
North Dakota State’s Bruce Anderson takes a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown during the FCS playoffs against Montana on Dec. 5 at the Fargodome. (FNS Photo by David Samson)

FARGO - It’s 1,838 miles between the Anderson residence in Ruskin, Fla., and Fargo. Then again, mileage is a relative term for North Dakota State running back Bruce Anderson, who has virtually lived around the world.
It took a little searching of his memory for Norman Anderson, his father, to count the number of places the family has lived since Bruce was born in Germany. Norman retired from the Air Force as a master sergeant, a career as a civil engineer that saw the family live in the likes of Japan, New Mexico and northern California.
He and his wife, Lesley, have a different full-time occupation now: Bison football fans.
“We were a little concerned about the distance. It was mostly his decision where he went,” Norman said. “We were going to follow him wherever he went.”
They’ll be following Bruce to Frisco, Texas, later this week when NDSU takes on Jacksonville (Ala.) State for the FCS national title on Saturday. It will culminate a true freshman season that saw Anderson grow from an occasional contributor early on to a major part of the NDSU attack in the playoff run.
He’s returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, one against Northern Iowa that was the game’s key play, and has emerged as the primary backup to starting running back King Frazier. He’s rushed for almost 500 yards, averaging 5.8 yards per carry, and scored two touchdowns.
It’s a long way from first learning the game in Japan playing flag football. His formative years of the game came in junior high in Yuba City, Calif., in the northern part of the state.
Sensing his love for the game and talent, Norman decided Florida would be a better fit for Bruce so they returned to the state where they once lived.
“That was his passion to play football so we were going to do anything possible for him to live that dream,” Norman said.
Bruce became a fan favorite with the “Bruuuuuuce” yell from the Fargodome crowd and has shown an explosive nature that wasn’t evident earlier in the season. Norman admits it’s a gear he didn’t see much of in high school.
“I think they brought something out of him in Fargo that I saw a little bit in high school,” he said. “He’s really blossomed since he’s been there.”
It’s been quite a ride for the parents. Upon learning he was getting his redshirt pulled in August, the Andersons figured they would try to get to two or three NDSU home games. It turns out they made it to eight, thanks to finding cheap airline tickets and the help of Fargo residents Meryl and Julie Willert, whose son Grant became friends with Bruce during summer orientation. Both are in the same dormitory, and both are in the same academic college.

Julie and Lesley also hit it off, and found out quickly they had more in common than having their youngest child leaving for college - therefore leaving both as empty nesters.
“Lesley and I connected like we’ve known each other for years,” Julie Willert said. “It was like we were meant to be brought together.”
Never was that more true than during the FCS playoffs, when getting back and forth from Ruskin to Fargo was not feasible. So the Willerts offered their home for a couple of weeks, and it provided, among other things, a great opportunity for Lesley to cook for her son again.
“It was so much fun, and we had so many laughs,” Julie said. “They are such great people, and we knew that from the first day we met. Bruce and Meryl connected too.”
The connection won’t stop this weekend; the two families plan to meet up in Frisco.
As for next year, Norman said the hope next fall is to find a six-month rental to live.
“Similar to snowbirds,” he said.
Or at least reverse snowbirds.
Bruce grew up with the ability to make friends fast and adapt to new places. There was no choice in the matter, but he said his parents took that potential negative and turned it into a positive.
“They approached it in a good way,” Bruce said. “They told me I would get to go somewhere new and get to experience something different, so that helped a lot. Sometimes growing up, you have friends and stuff, but you have to make that sacrifice and move.”
And when it came to college football, this time, it was his choice. Norman said before NDSU came to the recruiting table, the only time he heard of Fargo was the famous movie of the same name and about all he knew about North Dakota was the military end of it.
Now, after just a few months, it’s as if the Anderson family can add Fargo to the list of places they’ve lived.
“It’s been a wonderful ride,” Norman said. “We didn’t expect it to happen this soon.”

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