He sprints for “Snacks,” a 16-year-old friend named Mekhi Cooke who was struck and killed by a car in the chaotic aftermath of a shooting in Harrisburg last Christmas Eve.
The 17-year-old Steelton-Highspire senior zigs and zags for Dana, his mother, as well as his three siblings: Justice Andrews, 23; fellow Roller Henry Flemister, 16; and cheerleading sister, Hylise Flemister, 15.
He carries the rock for one of his best friends and former teammates, Harrisburg quarterback Yahmir Wilkerson, whose continuing positive influence very well might have saved Andrews’ life.
And he competes for his Rollers teammates and coaches, including head coach Andrew Erby, and the entire Steelton community that embraced him after his family moved from Harrisburg last spring.
He also fights for himself, to seek improvement in his life, to chase not only wins and championships but opportunities beyond the football field.
“He loves the game so much,” Steel-High legend Jordan Hill said. The 26-year-old Super Bowl-winning defensive lineman has been assisting Erby this fall while he recovers from a biceps injury that landed him on the Detroit Lions’ injured reserve.
“I can see him taking that next step and making his life better. Even if it’s not getting to the NFL, then maybe getting a scholarship and getting a degree.”
Considering where Andrews was at this time last year, it’s a remarkable turn of events for the 5-foot-10, 195-pound rocket, who’s been climbing the Rollers’ single-season leaderboard.
With Steel-High (11-2) already in possession of a District 3 Class 1A championship and facing District 6 champ Homer-Center in Hollidaysburg Friday night in the PIAA semifinals, Andrews checks in with 1,785 rushing yards, 498 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns this season.
He’s been a “game changer,” teammate Jarvai Flowers said. “He made a big impact on our team. He makes our offense complete.”
It says a lot that Flowers declares as much, considering Andrews supplanted him as the Rollers’ primary ball-carrier after his transfer last spring from Harrisburg.
Flowers shifted into more of a receiving role. He, Javion Grant, Kavon Hope and others provide senior QB Malachi Young a bevy of game-breaking weapons.
“I didn’t mind him playing running back and me going to wide receiver,” Flowers said. “It helps the team, so why not do it? It makes our offense harder to prepare for.”
Andrews said they had a conversation shortly after the transfer, and Flowers essentially offered to make the move.
“I didn’t want to take his shine, but he said he’d probably excel more [at wide receiver] anyway, and we all just want to win a state championship,” Andrews said. “So I took it and ran with it. I didn’t want to let him down.”
That level of selflessness and teamwork isn’t always easy, especially at the high school level where athletes are competing for attention from colleges in the pursuit of scholarships and stardom.
But when you understand Andrews a little better – and Flowers, for that matter – it makes a whole lot of sense.
THE BEST FIT
Andrews, born and raised in Harrisburg, doesn’t know a lot about his dad.
Dana Andrews, though, has done the job. The former Harrisburg student helps run the school district’s transportation department.
The family lived uptown on Green Street, and Dupri kept finding himself in bad situations.
Despite a bit of a breakout season with the Cougars last fall, helping the program reach the state championship game, Andrews’ life was about to become incredibly difficult.
First came the death of Cooke, who was killed in that Dec. 24 accident.
About a month later, Andrews became a father at just 16 with the birth of Khyree.
There was also a lot of violence around him.
“People I was hanging around were getting in trouble. Me too,” he said. “I wasn’t focused.”
His grades were terrible, he added. So Dana decided to move the family to Steelton.
Andrews was lost at first. He hated his new school and barely knew anybody. To make matters worse, he didn’t participate in spring sports after football in the fall and wrestling in the winter.
But he soon latched on with some of his future Rollers football teammates, including Jayshun Ramsey, Kareem Rorie and Shykirr Johns.
Meanwhile, his former quarterback, Wilkerson, recognized that, despite losing his outstanding abilities on the field, this was the best move for Andrews.
Friends since elementary school, the two had a long talk, with Wilkerson expressing his opinion strongly enough to chop away at a lot of his friend’s hesitancy and cynicism.
“He basically finalized my move to Steelton,” Andrews said.
While there was certainly a football aspect – Andrews would have continued backing up five-star stud Micah Parsons at running back with the Cougars – this was less about the game and more about life.
“He said it was worth it, that it was the best fit for me. So I said, ‘If you say so, bro, I’m gonna go with it.’ He’s a big influence. The friendship is deeper than football. He wanted whatever was best for me, wanted me to have a bright future. That’s why I love him. Just a great friend. I hope I have him around for a long time.”
Wilkerson, who led the Cougars to an undefeated regular season and a trip to the District 3 Class 5A semifinals, acknowledged his team missed Andrews’ fire and sure-handed tackling ability on defense. But he knew this wasn’t about football.
“He is uplifting and fun to be around,” Wilkerson said. “Nothing but good vibes and laughs around Dupri. That’s my brother.”
A rejuvenated Andrews started to shake off the doldrums, and by the time offseason workouts were humming, he was finding his way.
“He’s a throwback kid, old-school and hard-nosed,” said Erby, who didn’t know much about his new running back before the transfer. “He runs mean, runs with passion. He has a nasty side to him when he’s running that ball.”
Although the talent was obvious right away, the breakthrough came in the Rollers’ third game of the season with a handful of skill players, including Grant and Flowers, out of action.
All Andrews did in that 44-26 triumph at Dover was score five touchdowns (three rushing, two receiving) and play lockdown defense (as a defensive back and linebacker) against the Eagles’ top playmakers.
“He really showed me the type of player he was,” Erby said. “He stepped up and put the team on his back offensively and defensively.”
Meanwhile, motivated by the desire to make a better life for his son and for himself, Andrews started seeing improvement in the classroom.
With an eye toward potential pursuit of a business degree, he said he checked in with a grade point average of roughly 2.5 in his latest semester, and he’s aiming for a 3.0 this semester. He took the SAT and said he got a decent score.
“I knew if I wanted my son to have a bright future, it had to start in the classroom and then on the field,” Andrews said. “I knew I’d have to change a lot as a person and grow more as a person. I think my son helped me do that.”
Flowers invited Dupri as a guest on a recent football visit to Saint Francis, where they stayed with former Steel-High and Susquehanna Twp. standout Jordan Millberry.
Shippensburg University has expressed interest, as have a number of other NCAA Division II and Division I FCS schools, said Erby, who added that junior college is an option.
Andrews has developed a bond with Hill, who helped Steel-High to state championships in 2007 and 2008 before finding success at Penn State, then winning a Super Bowl title with the Seattle Seahawks in February 2014.
Hill is known for his charitable nature, his sense of humor and, of course, his passion for football. All of it has rubbed off on Andrews.
“He’s been through every stage. He’s seen everything,” Andrews said. “There’s nothing he hasn’t seen or done that he can’t teach us. Even though I play [mostly] offense, everything he says, I listen to it. I can use it in life, anytime, anywhere.
“He’s so big, but he’s so funny. He looks scary, but he’s not.”
Hill quickly picked up on Andrews’ passion for the game. Just as important, he noticed how the running back listened intently anytime Hill was speaking.
“He came in as an underdog,” Hill said. “And when you come from Steelton, you’re born with the underdog mentality. So he was accepted into it.
“He’s a shifty [running] back who will break through arm tackles. But the thing I like most about him when he runs the football is you can see his determination and heart. He has that hungry streak in him that a lot of people don’t have.”
Andrews’ abilities as a running back and occasional slot receiver have helped open the Steel-High offense, forcing more defenders into the box. This creates more one-on-ones for Flowers, Grant and Hope, allowing Young to feast through the air.
The Rollers are averaging 51 points over three playoff wins.
Andrews rushed for 92 yards and two scores last week vs. Williams Valley after missing the previous game vs. Wyalusing Valley. In the District 3 title win over Fairfield, he gained 161 yards on just 13 carries, with two scores and another on a kickoff return.
More than that, though, he’s delighted with his current path. He raves about the family vibe with the Rollers.
“I couldn’t be more happy,” he said. “This is the best move I’ve ever made. I’m happy at this position now, and thanking Erb for even introducing me to the team and wanting me to be a part of this team.
“I’m so grateful to be part of this and to try to bring a state championship back to Steelton.”