Anderson did not exactly zip in and zip out. He flew into Cleveland, then met the Rossville-Alvin seniors at the nearby Cedar Point amusement park. He went on rides with them, sharing their laughter and nausea. He endured the six-hour drive back to Rossville, then spent two days there.
"He got to know all my friends," says Huffman, who still seems slightly incredulous, a year and a half later. "He still asks about 'em. He wants to know how everybody's doing. He actually cares."
By the time Anderson delivered his speech—he has a video of it, which he screens only reluctantly—he had met half the people in the gym. He warmed up his audience with a couple of jokes at the expense of superintendent Phil Smith and then dean of students Mark Janesky. He advised the graduates to make lists and seize the day. "Dreams are the backbone of reality's accomplishments," he told them. He could have read the ingredients off a Wheaties box and gotten wild applause, but instead he gave a substantial talk that had the added benefit of being brief.
Huffman followed Anderson to the lectern, thanking his friend "for taking time out of his busy schedule...and also for being just a great individual." The teenager's voice cracked with emotion.
Watching the video from the couch in his Suwanee, Ga., house, Anderson is misty-eyed, too. "I gotta take this out," he says, grabbing the remote and clicking off the VCR. He mumbles something about how he's got to get to bed because it's already after midnight and he's got practice tomorrow.
Jamal Anderson's heart isn't the first thing you notice about him, but it's the last thing you forget. The Falcons are on a roll, and Anderson is blowing up in Atlanta. In Rossville he could not be any larger.