How an East Lansing bus driver’s Michigan-loving son became OU’s new downfield threat

How an East Lansing bus driver’s Michigan-loving son became OU’s new downfield threat

Entering the picture as the Sooners search for production wide receiver, OU’s Andrel Anthony has found everything he was looking for when he left Michigan earlier this year.

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Sep 8, 2023, 8:00am CDT

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Sep 8, 2023, 8:00am CDT

NORMAN — Life seldom plays out like a movie, except for when it does.

Oklahoma wide receiver Andrel Anthony had more than just immediate family on hand for the Sooners’ opener with Arkansas State. There were AAU basketball coaches from back home in Michigan. A sister visiting from Texas. Family friends from other states. 

They were all at Owen Field in Week 1 to see Anthony’s debut in the offense he swapped for Michigan’s via the transfer portal earlier this year, his first go in the offensive scheme the former Wolverine bet on to make the most of his blazing speed and downfield ability.

If any lingering doubt remained, it took all of four snaps to disappear. For Anthony and the crowd of family and friends in the stands, the 45-yard deep ball he pulled down on OU’s opening drive was affirmation of the decision Anthony made eight months earlier to leave home for Norman.

“When something is new, you hope things play out how you envisioned them in your mind,” said Andrel Sr., Anthony’s father.

“It was a stressful deal trying to figure out the portal. Do you move? Do you not? That catch just made it all worth it to see your kid happy. A lot went into it. It was good to see it pay off early.”

How does the son of an East Lansing bus driver who calls Michigan his dream school land at OU as the potential key to the Sooners’ aerial attack?

The early connection with quarterback Dillon Gabriel marked Anthony’s formal introduction in an OU uniform. The Sooners will hope it’s the first of many big plays the 6-foot-1 pass catcher logs in crimson and cream.

Anthony enters the picture this fall as OU searches for a downfield replacement to Marvin Mims and a stable of reliable pass catchers in 2023. And few on the depth chart carry more intrigue than the burner fresh off back-to-back College Football Playoff appearances at Michigan.

The long reception was the highlight in Anthony’s three-catch, 66-yard Sooners debut. If the deep ball from Gabriel reinforced the reasons Anthony came to OU, his overall performance in the opener cemented everything Jeff Lebby identified when Anthony entered the transfer portal looking for something new earlier this year.

OU receiver Andrel Anthony. (STEVE SISNEY/FOR THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY NETWORK)

“He needed to change,” the Sooners’ offensive coordinator said this week. “He wanted a scheme change I think as much as anything. I got on the phone and everything checked out. I knew he was going to be a guy that played with really good length and really good top end speed, and that’s what we need.”

The relationship between coordinator and pass catcher goes back to Anthony’s junior year at East Lansing High School. Anthony was sitting at a friend’s house in 2019 when he got a text from Lebby, then at Ole Miss.

“I was like, ‘Geez, (Ole Miss) has a history of putting people out (to the NFL),’” Anthony said. “I talked to him a lot — pretty frequently. But unfortunately COVID happened, and he wasn’t able to visit.”

Several years later, when Anthony hit the portal, Lebby was the first coach to get in touch.

That was after Anthony recorded only 19 catches across two seasons at Michigan. After the consecutive College Football Playoffs semifinal trips he took with the Wolverines. And after Anthony decided he needed to be somewhere other than the school he’d always dreamed of playing for.

Andrel Sr. might have raised his family in East Lansing, Michigan. Yes, he spends his days driving buses for East Lansing’s Capital Area Transportation Authority, operating routes that run through Michigan State’s campus. He even married a Michigan State graduate — his wife Vicki is a Spartan.

But make no mistake about it. Andrel Sr. is all maize and blue. 

“I’ve been a Michigan fan all my life,”  he said. “My wife’s a Michigan State alum. But I won out as far as swaying Andrel which way to go.”

That meant Anthony was raised on stories of Desmond Howard. Anthony grew up admiring Braylon Edwards and later forged a personal relationship with the Michigan wide receiver who spent eight seasons in the NFL. And then Anthony got to play for the Wolverines, affording his family the chance to see him compete on the turf at “The Big House” and all the personal benefits that come with playing college football 55 minutes from home. 

Anthony’s parents could always zip down to campus for a quick bite. Home laundry service was only ever a short drive up the road. To his parents, it was almost like Anthony never left for school.

“I’m glad I went to Michigan for a couple of years,” Anthony said. “I got adjusted to college. It would have been a lot harder (playing far from home) coming out of high school.”

When Anthony’s second season closed in a Fiesta Bowl defeat to TCU on New Year’s Eve, he knew he had to make a change. 

Andrel Anthony with his father Andrel Sr., left middle, and mother Vicki, right. Anthony spent two seasons at Michigan before transferring to Oklahoma. (Provided)

Michigan was a perfect program fit.  The Wolverines offense that huddles and has produced a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the past two seasons ultimately never quite suited Anthony’s game. Only twice in his 26 games there did Anthony record multiple receptions.

“If he was a running back, we’d be on Cloud Nine right now,” Andrel Sr. said. “If he was a running back, there’s no doubt we’d be right there still.”

Michigan’s coaching staff viewed Anthony as a future starter. They tried to hang onto him and didn’t. Four days after the College Football Playoff exit, he was living in the transfer portal and in the midst of its searing uncertainty.

The family had heard stories of portal players who never found greener grass. They worried Anthony’s late jump into the portal might limit his opportunities. Everything moved fast.

“It was some sleepless nights,” Andrel Sr. said. “Not a lot of them. But in a short period of time there was a lot going on.”

That whirlwind ramped down on a trip to Norman. Anthony’s official visit to OU on Jan. 7 coincided with his 21st birthday. Three days later, he committed to the Sooners and a scheme that had everything he was looking for when he left Michigan.

“Fast tempo. Lots of plays. And the coaches really trust the player to make plays here,” Anthony said. “That’s what I love. That’s all I could ask for.”

It didn’t take long for the fit to show. Gabriel said the long connection on the opening series had been in the making since Anthony stepped on campus in January and surprised Gabriel with his height and agility in their first first throwing session. 

“That’s eight months together of being close and working at it,” said the fifth-year quarterback. “Time does do wonders.”

The 45-yard catch showed everything Anthony can bring the Sooners and everything they need him to be. His combination of sprinter’s speed, sharp route running and elite downfield ability makes Anthony the kind of receiver Lebby can call on to stretch opposing defenses.

Anthony is confident in the opportunities in front of him, too. Downfield shots in a tempo offense were central in pulling him to OU. But in that moment Saturday, as the crowd roared from the Sooners’ first deep ball of the season, Anthony had never felt more certain. 

“Everything from all the stress from the portal and all the work and all that — that’s what I wanted,” he said. “It’s going to happen a lot more.”

Share with your crowd
Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at [email protected].

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • Mr. Cowboy: How John Smith said goodbye to Oklahoma State wrestling

  • There’s time for NBA Playoff concerns. Now is the time for Thunder appreciation

  • Oklahoma's Kelly Maxwell (28) pitches during a college softball game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and BYU at Love's Field in Norman, Okla., Saturday, April 13, 2024. Oklahoma won 7-3.

    Why OU’s pitching staff would be sunk without Kelly Maxwell

  • Oct 7, 2023; Dallas, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners defensive lineman Da'Jon Terry (95) and defensive lineman Jordan Kelley (88) and linebacker Jaren Kanak (7) celebrate during the game between the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners at the Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Another sign the SEC era is upon us: Sooners’ practice-field trash talking

  • A year ago, Nick Martin, left, and Ollie Gordon were fighting for starting spots at Oklahoma State. Now, they are Cowboy stars. How they navigated that change should bode well for OSU next season. (Michael Lane illustration/Sellout Crowd. Photos by USA Today Sports)

    Ollie Gordon and Nick Martin: From faces in the crowd to faces of OSU

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • Mr. Cowboy: How John Smith said goodbye to Oklahoma State wrestling

  • There’s time for NBA Playoff concerns. Now is the time for Thunder appreciation

  • Oklahoma's Kelly Maxwell (28) pitches during a college softball game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and BYU at Love's Field in Norman, Okla., Saturday, April 13, 2024. Oklahoma won 7-3.

    Why OU’s pitching staff would be sunk without Kelly Maxwell

  • Oct 7, 2023; Dallas, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners defensive lineman Da'Jon Terry (95) and defensive lineman Jordan Kelley (88) and linebacker Jaren Kanak (7) celebrate during the game between the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners at the Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Another sign the SEC era is upon us: Sooners’ practice-field trash talking

  • A year ago, Nick Martin, left, and Ollie Gordon were fighting for starting spots at Oklahoma State. Now, they are Cowboy stars. How they navigated that change should bode well for OSU next season. (Michael Lane illustration/Sellout Crowd. Photos by USA Today Sports)

    Ollie Gordon and Nick Martin: From faces in the crowd to faces of OSU