ANDERSON — Jerian Beard might be the best-kept secret in Indiana.
The Anderson senior begins his third year as the starting running back coming off a season in which he rushed for 1,171 yards on 155 carries and scored 17 touchdowns. He also caught 29 passes for 347 yards and five scores.
Indiana, Ball State and the University of Indianapolis have shown some level of interest in his services for next fall. Still, somehow, his name remains relatively unknown outside of the city limits.
“In my opinion, he’s probably one of the top five backs in the state,” Indians head coach Randy Albano said.
Beard was diagnosed with diabetes in January shortly after helping the Anderson boys basketball team win the Madison County championship. A role player in that sport, he believed his real test with the disease would come on the football field.
So far, so good.
“He’s doing real well,” Albano said. “He had a good offseason. He’s a lot stronger than last year, a lot faster. I think he can match what he did last year and a little better. He’s going to have a good year.”
Despite heavy losses from a team that finished 4-6 in 2012, the prognosis for the Tribe as a whole is similarly positive.
Anderson opens the season Friday at Fort Wayne Wayne, an athletic team that paid its dues with young players in the past two seasons and could be ready for a breakout campaign. And IHSAA realignment that created a new Class 6A and left the Indians in 5A did little to help the team’s postseason chances.
Anderson was assigned to a sectional that pairs it with four of the state’s top 20 teams in The Associated Press preseason poll — No. 1 Indianapolis Cathedral, No. 4 Zionsville, No. 12 Decatur Central and No. 17 Richmond.
But the Tribe believes it can contend in the North Central Conference, where the Red Devils and No. 13 Kokomo are the preseason favorites. Anderson beat the Wildkats 41-33 in the final week of the regular season last year and played Richmond tough in a 47-34 loss in Week 3.