Growing up in the shadow of big-time college football, Terrence Anderson had the unique opportunity to learn from some of the sport's best. He was named after former NFL defensive back Terry Kinard -- the first player his father recruited as an assistant coach at Clemson -- and his babysitters included Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas, players his father recruited while working for Oklahoma State.

Not surprisingly, the Navy senior center has a substance-over-style approach to playing.

"Most offensive linemen are tough guys. I tell them all the time, I'm not a tough guy," said Anderson, who also sings tenor in the Naval Academy gospel choir. "I smile a little too much and maybe care about my grooming standards a little too much. I see a lot of true tough guys who use that as a motivation to play, and that's good -- especially here. But my motivation is more in a simple pride that I'm not going to let any one person beat me."

That approach has helped him make a stunningly quick transition from seldom-used backup linebacker to one of the nation's top centers. (He was rated the nation's eighth-best center in the Sporting News' season preview magazine.)

Last season -- his first at center -- he averaged 15 knockdown blocks per game and did not allow a sack. He also did his best work against the best opponents, grading out at 95 percent against Notre Dame and recording 25 knockdown blocks against unbeaten Tulane.

"He can be as good as he wants to be because he's got the one thing that a lot of them lack, and that's consistency," Navy offensive line coach Gene McKeehan said. "You kind of expect him to play well every game, and he does."

Leading by example is nothing new to Anderson, however. While they were growing up, he and his brother, Derrick, shared their home with emotionally troubled boys from dysfunctional families whom their father -- a church pastor as well as a football coach -- took in for anywhere from six months to two years as part of his ministry.

"The goal was to try and impact a change," Willie Anderson said. "Terrence and his brother were always role models for [the boys he took in]. They worked closely with them and made a difference."

But Willie Anderson, an all-Atlantic Coast Conference nose guard and team co-captain at Clemson in 1974, has groomed his son to be a leader since shortly after he was conceived. While pursuing his master's degree, the elder Anderson studied the idea that education begins in the womb. So he read and talked to his still-unborn son, frequently telling him one day he would become the first black president.

The night Terrence was born, his father read him an entire Mother Goose book.

When it came to football, though, Willie Anderson resisted the urge to coach his kids. Now the defensive coordinator at Langston (Okla.) University, he said, if anything, his son may be too serious. An economics major who also is taking pre-med courses, Terrence Anderson said he eventually would like to become a physician. He also is considering trying out for Navy's wrestling team (he finished sixth in his weight class in Oklahoma as a high school senior).

"I like having an opponent -- it's either me or him that wins," Anderson said. "One of us knows he won, the other knows he lost."

At 5 feet 11 and 285 pounds, he often weighs 20 or 30 pounds less than the players he must block. Overcoming that obstacle, he said, is just a matter of putting into practice lessons he learned long ago.

"Most of the guys I play against are bigger and stronger than I am, but it's just a matter of technique," he said. "A lot of guys don't play with good technique, and that can save you if you're not as strong or talented as they are."

1998 Results.

at Wake Forest L26-14

Kent W38-24

at Tulane L42-24

West Virginia L45-24

at Air Force L49-7

Colgate W42-35

at Boston College W32-31

Rutgers L36-33

vs. Notre Dame L30-0

Southern Methodist L24-11

vs. Army L34-30