Reed Blankenship is a former three star recruit out of West Limestone High School in Lester, Alabama. He received interest from a few schools, most notably Illinois and Southern Miss, but he ultimately decided to attend Middle Tennessee State.
I asked him about that recruiting process coming out of high school:
Well, Rick Stockstill (MTSU's Head Coach) is a pretty big name in college football, and he just made it feel like home when I started visiting there. I always wanted to play with someone that was family first and had faith.
It just seemed like the right fit and I visited Middle Tennessee a few times before I committed. It just felt like home and I felt like I could make an impact pretty quick at the school.
Blankenship certainly made an impact right away at the school. He was a starter for five seasons at the school and broke numerous records in his time at MTSU. He is currently the all-time tackle leader at MTSU, leading the way with 419 in his career.
He earned All-C-USA honors in four of his five seasons at the school and was effectively one of the best safeties in college football over his career. It was truly an historic career for Blankenship with the Blue Raiders.
I asked him how he would summarize his incredible college career:
You know, it is always great to have your name somewhere in the record books, especially in college. I never would have thought that this would happen to me. My teammates and my coaches have pushed me on and off the field to get my mind and body right to have this type of career.
I actually broke the record on a game that we actually lost. It was hard to celebrate that, but at the end of the day, it feels pretty good to have my name somewhere in the record book.
Overcoming a Major Injury
For all of his success in his collegiate career, Blankenship did have a major setback at one point. Halfway through his junior season in 2019, he suffered a broken ankle, which effectively ended his dominant start to the year.
It was a long road back for him after this injury, as his recovery process was interrupted by the Covid shortened (and restricted) 2020 season. He finally was able to return to form in 2021 and he had one of his best seasons to date.
I asked him about that recovery process and how he was able to mentally work through it:
I never would have thought that I would suffer an injury like that. As many times that I have come up to a pile... it was just a freak accident. With that happening in the middle of the season, my first thought was that I had to get back as quick as possible.
I was just trying to be a leader on this defense and trying to make sure that all my guys were straight. I knew the process was going to be long, but then 2020 came and Covid hit. I had actually just started to run during that spring and that is when we got sent home for Covid.
Unfortunately, Covid just shut everything down. I had to do treatment on my own at a small facility just so I could do the all of the work that I could. It was hard not being around the guys that know how to push you, and I had to ask myself if I was really ready, mentally, to play this season (in 2020).
I was quarantined for 42 days that summer and I didn't get the right treatment as I should because of that. My first game, or my first full-padded practice really, was against Army. I'm trying to tell myself that I was ready, but in the back of my mind, my leg was still hurting a little bit and I didn't really want to go full speed on it.
Some games in 2020 just didn't feel right, you know? I was trying to find myself that whole year and felt like I was kind of lost. I made it a goal going into 2021 that I had to put all hands on deck. I put it all into 2021 and I feel like I ended my career on a solid note.
All Over The Field
To accumulate the amount of tackles that Blankenship did in his college career is extremely impressive. While a ton of it has to be attributed to his own personal play, the defensive scheme that he played in had to do its part to put him in those proper positions to make plays.
I asked him about his role with MTSU and how it helped him get his numbers up:
So Scott Shafer (MTSU's Defensive Coordinator) is a very impressive guy. He told me from the start that he uses his safeties a lot. He told me to be prepared to fit the run and come down to make a lot of tackles.
We played a system where our linebackers split everything and forced everything outside, especially on run plays. I love coming downhill and fitting the hole and I feel like it means something. I love being physical, so I just love this part of the game.
The NFL is quickly transitioning to more versatile safeties. Long gone are the days where you had a strong safety and a free safety. Nowadays, teams have to have a safety that can do both in order to properly disguise a defense pre-snap.
I asked Blankenship about the importance of having a safety that can play single-high and play in the box:
Having a safety that can play over the top and around the line of scrimmage is just huge. You especially have to be a good cover guy playing in the box with these running backs nowadays. They are starting to lower their weight and are more of a skill position now. I believe I fit (the versatile safety) profile well.
Shrine Bowl Experience
Blankenship was invited to play at the East-West Shrine Bowl this offseason after his outstanding college career.
I asked him about that experience and what it was like to play with some of the best talent in the country:
It was great, man. I have never been in front of that many scouts before in my entire life. I would see a few down at school, but seeing all those teams on the sidelines watching every move you make is so different. Like, I had an interview every day.
That was something that I have been preparing for my entire career and it was something that I love. I believe that I showed as much as I could in front of them and, hopefully, they can see that.
NFL Draft Outlook
I finished off the interview with the same way I finish all of them. I asked Blankenship how he would sell himself to a team this offseason. I asked him what my team would be getting, on and off the field, if they draft him:
If your team needs a hard-working special teams player, then I will be that guy. I'm not afraid to play any special teams and I would not look down upon that job at all. I believe that is a way to get your foot in the door.
I didn't play a lot of special teams in college, but I played it a lot in the Shrine Bowl. I actually believe that is the only footage they got from me, just special teams at the Shrine Bowl.
On and off the field, I just respect everybody and I just care about a lot of people. I believe that I will carry that closeness and friendship over into the locker room.
Blankeship is a highly decorated college player that is as battle-tested as they come in the draft. While he may never be a full-time starter in the NFL, he has the mental makeup and willingness to be a top tier special teamer.
Whichever team drafts him in this class is getting a high character player that will do all the little things for their team.
Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachHicks2.
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