Like the liberal arts curriculum for which it is known, the campus at Middlebury College in Vermont is expansive. There are lots of open spaces and grass fields where the 1,900-member student body regularly frolics under crystal-blue skies.
Academics and sports are big at Middlebury, a 187-year-old school 35 miles south of Burlington and just an hour away from Lake Placid, N.Y. Informal softball and soccer games abound between campus buildings. The spacious lawns have served as fairways for more than one golf enthusiast.
That kind of atmosphere appeals to sports-minded, college-bound high school seniors. Throw in the mountains, specifically, the Middlebury Snow Bowl--a ski area owned and operated by the university--and it's even more alluring to athletes such as Peter Andersons of Harvard High.
Andersons has been an All-Southern Section tight end and linebacker on the football team, a power forward on the basketball team, a member of the school's nationally ranked club rugby team and a middle blocker on the Saracens' second-ranked volleyball team that opens the Southern Section 3-A playoffs tonight against Pilgrim, which is in the Westlake area of Los Angeles. In an era when the three-sport athlete has become almost extinct, Andersons is a rarity in the Valley area as an accomplished four-sport performer.
"I can't function without playing sports," Andersons said. "If I'm not playing something, I start going downhill."
But downhill is exactly where Andersons plans to head next year when he enrolls at Middlebury. The 6-3, 200-pound senior passed the opportunity for athletic scholarships at other universities so he wouldn't be locked into just one sport. At Middlebury, where there are no athletic scholarships, he will play football, then hopes to join the school's perennially powerful ski team, which has produced a number of NCAA champions.
Question Andersons about skiing and a far-away look appears on his face. His eyes become glazed and his muscles become taut.
"Going 50 miles an hour over a mogul field, you have to be intense to the point that so much of your adrenaline is flowing--you freak out," Andersons said. "It's like lining up right before the play starts in football, getting into the scrums in rugby or getting a perfect swing on the ball and hitting as hard as you can in volleyball.
"It's precise and intense."
Those are the watchwords coaches and players have used to describe Andersons during his high school career. The controlled fury with which he plays football is evident when he plays rugby, basketball or volleyball.
For most of this year, Andersons wore his blond hair short and cropped close to his scalp. He resembled Drago, Sylvester Stallone's Soviet nemesis in "Rocky IV." Andersons is letting his hair grow now, but the menacing glare remains.
"He's a monster," Chaminade volleyball Coach Mike Lynn said. "Volleyball has always had the image of being a passive sport. Peter Andersons kind of changes the image."
Andersons is an intimidator, to be sure. But he is also an inquisitor. The most oft-used word in his vocabulary is, "Why?"
"He has to understand the concept of what you're teaching, your philosophy and your reason," Harvard football Coach Gary Thran said. "And you better have an answer for him, or it isn't worth a damn. He won't let up until he gets an answer."
Andersons doesn't limit the 20-questions routine to football practice. He has had running dialogues with coaches during tight contests in all sports. During basketball season, he'd query Coach Greg Hilliard with very specific questions in the middle of a fast break. During volleyball matches, he has questioned Coach Mark Zalin at length while the ball is going back and forth over the net.
"If you really know the rules of a game, you play better," Andersons said. "That's why I like rugby. The game is 200 years old and the rules are refined. There's only one interpretation to everything."
Andersons, who is of Latvian descent, is fond of tradition. He is an accomplished pianist who prefers compositions by Chopin, Bach and Mozart for relaxation.
"It gives me a change, an escape," Andersons said. "Most of the faculty at Harvard freaks out when they find out I play the piano."
It's the same reaction opposing coaches experience when they see Andersons on the other side of the net.
"The thing that impresses me is his ability to think," University Coach Neal Newman said. "When we played Harvard, he'd get blocked and the next time, instead of trying to hit through the block, he'd hit around it. A lot of big kids can hit, but not think like he does."
These days, all of Andersons' thoughts are on volleyball. He will pass the chance to play for Harvard in the rugby national championships in Denver this weekend to participate in the volleyball playoffs.
The Saracens cruised undefeated through the Santa Fe League and are gearing next for the Southern Section title. Andersons, along with Stanford-bound Mike Lowe and UC Santa Barbara-bound John Shelton, is gunning for top-seeded and defending 3-A champ Loyola.
This summer, Andersons probably will play volleyball, windsurf and get ready for the football, skiing and maybe even lacrosse seasons at Middlebury.
"I just want to play as many sports as I can as well as I can," Andersons said. "Some people say that may have hurt me become nationally recognized in just one sport, but I have no regrets. I've enjoyed it."