‘He loved everybody:’ Otis Anderson Jr.’s impact went beyond football field

Former UC and UCF football star remembered as a genuine, always smiling

Central Florida running back Otis Anderson (2) scores during the second half of an NCAA college football game against South Florida, Friday, Nov. 29, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.) (Willie J. Allen Jr., Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Always smiling. The first to speak up and help out.

An exceptional representative of University Christian.

Just a naturally genuine person.

Otis Anderson Jr., or Juice, after his OJ moniker, was a local football star who went on to even greater success at the college level. He then fulfilled a dream by signing a free-agent contract with the Los Angeles Rams last summer. According to police, Anderson Jr. died in a double shooting at his parents’ home on the Northside on Monday night. His father has now been accused of murder in connection with his son’s death.

His death has shaken the community and beyond, a reflection of Anderson Jr.’s impact as a player, but more importantly, as a person.

Anderson Jr.’s high school coach, David Penland III, said the loss was difficult to put into words because of just how much the 23-year-old meant to the school and the area.

He was truly one of the good ones, Penland said, a person who continued to show up and give back to the area.

That was just Otis, he said.

While Anderson Jr. was a football star positioned for big things after high school, he was never too big to spend time with younger students. And after he left UC, Penland said that he would always pop back up at the school and check in on the current group of players, even as recently as this month before UC began its state playoff quest.

“I had to move a couple times. You know, move houses, and Otis was always, he would always volunteer, ‘I’ll come help you, coach.’ And that’s just the type of kid he was,” Penland said. “He loved everybody. Not only his teammates … but the little kids in the school. The little kids loved him, just watching him. And some of those kids that were little are playing for me now. And you know, it was awesome to see, you know, the impact that he had on their life.”

To Ahjanae Ballance and others who grew up with him, Anderson Jr. went by the nickname Gumby.

“He was goofy. Funny. Always made sure everyone had a good time,” Ballance said.

The tributes have poured in continuously since news of Anderson Jr.’s death began circulating early Tuesday morning.

“He was a he was a lifter, he was the person that brought everybody else together. Just selfless. ... Just wanting to see other people succeed. Never a dull moment around. He was hilarious. Always cracking jokes,” said former UCF and Ed White High offensive lineman Jordan Johnson.

“We used to always make the joke that we can’t wait to be old heads. We can’t wait to be just old men sitting on the porch one day just talking about nothing. Just sitting around talking about nothing.”

University Church pastor Frank Ciresi said the news was devastating. Ciresi said that Anderson Jr. was “one of my favorites.”

“They’re, they’re in need of our prayers, first and foremost. They’re devastated. This is not something that anybody could have seen coming. This is not a family that is, it’s not a dysfunctional family. It’s not a family that you would expect anything like this from,” he said. “And so, you know, they’re, they’re hurting and they’re in need of our prayers, as you can imagine.”

Ciresi said the world will miss Anderson Jr., not just because he was an all-star athlete, but because he was a good man.

“He encouraged other kids. He was more worried about his teammates and how the game went for them than he was about himself,” Ciresi said. “And he was just unselfish, humble and really just a bright light in our community.”

Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey tweeted, “Rest in Heaven Otis We gotta do better on this earth smh. Big prayers up.”

“Man not my lil bro otis heartbroken,” tweeted Carolina Panthers defensive end and former UC star Marquis Haynes.

Florida State and former UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton tweeted: “I’ll never forget that million dollar smile Juice..heartbroken is an understatement. I’ll see you again one day lil bro.”

At UC, Anderson Jr. was a versatile player who shined on both sides of the football. He and Hussein Howe Jr. were a potent 1-2 punch out of the backfield during back-to-back state championship seasons in 2015-16. When Howe graduated following the 2015 season, Anderson Jr. became the primary back and excelled. He was a Times-Union Super 24 selection during his senior season in 2016.

But where he really took off was in college with the Knights. Anderson Jr. played as a true freshman with UCF and his production increased by the season. He amassed 3,708 all-purpose yards and 27 total touchdowns with the Knights in Scott Frost’s offense. Anderson Jr. played on UCF’s 13-0 team in 2017. Anderson Jr. averaged 6.1 yards per carry at UCF, which ranks second in program history behind Greg McCrae (6.45).

After leaving UCF, Anderson Jr. was briefly a member of the Los Angels Rams this season. Anderson Jr. spent training camp with the Rams after going undrafted in the 2021 NFL Draft but was cut from the practice squad in September, according to CBS Sports.

“The Rams are saddened by the tragic and sudden loss of Otis Anderson Jr. Our sincere condolences are with his family during this very difficult time. Rest In Peace, Otis,” the Rams tweeted.

Penland said that Anderson Jr. never forgot where he came from, showing up at UC games and practices when he could.

“Otis’ leaving behind a legacy of love and great, and there’s not one thing that I can honestly say bad about Otis,” Penland said. “He’s just, he was he was a great kid.”

UC Head of School Heath Nivens sent out the following message on Tuesday:

About the Authors:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.

Scott is a multi-Emmy Award Winning Anchor and Reporter, who also hosts the “Going Ringside With The Local Station” Podcast. Scott has been a journalist for 25 years, covering stories including six presidential elections, multiple space shuttle launches and dozens of high-profile murder trials.