Blount Press Row

Male Athlete of the Year

Maryville’s Blackmon embraces value of multi-sports training

Rebel junior T.D. Blackmon, a MaxPreps football All-American, proved one of Blount County’s best on the hardwood with an All-District 4AAA selection. Photos by Wallace Bowden

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

T.D. Blackmon is one of the most watched high school football players in the land.

A big year for Blackmon on the gridiron included being named a MaxPreps high school All-American and state championship game defensive most valuable player.

A big year for Blackmon on the gridiron included being named a MaxPreps high school All-American, Class 6A Mr. Football and state championship game defensive most valuable player.

Maryville coach George Quarles fields inquiries from colleges interested in the Rebel All-American linebacker on an almost daily basis. More and more, it isn’t how many tackles Blackmon had last season they want to know, how much he benches, his time in the 40-yard dash.

How’s his jump shot?

Can he hit the 3?

That, statistics say, will have a lot to do with where the Barley’s/Blount Press Row Male Athlete of the Year ends up at the college level and beyond.

“Basketball has always been my favorite sport,” Blackmon said. “It’s a stress reliever.”

It’s also a good way to build a better football player, a mounting body of evidence suggests.

According to the website, 26 of 31 players taken in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, including No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff of California, were multi-sport athletes in high school. Thirty-one of 32 second round picks were so versatile.

Of 253 selections overall, 244 played more than one sport during their prep days.

Wait. There’s more.

ESPN surveyed 128 professional quarterbacks, 73 active, 55 retired, two years ago. Only five played only football in high school.

Curiously, or maybe not, all five football-only QBs were backups.

This Urban Myer recruiting chart went viral on Twitter.

This Urban Myer recruiting chart went viral on Twitter.

More pertinent to players like Blackmon, an Urban Myer recruiting chart went viral a year ago when it found its way to Twitter. Of 47 players signed by the Buckeyes coach, 42 were multi-sport athletes as high schoolers.

“I think it says a lot about the overall athlete,” Maryville basketball coach Mark Eldridge said. “You give a little early to get a lot back later.”

The benefits of playing more than one sport — fewer injuries from overuse, less burnout, better flexibility — have long been known. It’s something Quarles stresses in his role as Maryville’s athletics director.

“I try to encourage all of our coaches to do that,” he said.

Rebel footballers as prized as quarterback Dylan Hopkins, receiver Christian Markham, defensive end Matt Young and running backs Jordan Irvin and Isaiah Cobb each play at least two sports for Maryville. Markham — football, basketball, baseball — is one of the best athletes at the school on three teams.

“I think it’s a mistake for kids to specialize so early,” Quarles said. “The more things you do, the more athletic you are. There’s plenty of time to get bigger.”

Blount Press Row considered the following in selecting our first male athlete of the year: Maryville’s Kelby Brock (football), Chris Fernandez (soccer) and Hopkins (football/track and field); Alcoa’s Jonathan Decker (football) and Tykee Ogle (football/basketball/track and field); Heritage’s Blake Ervin (basketball) and Colton Wright (football/track and field); William Blount’s Isaiah Hannah (football/basketball).

Thing is, Blackmon isn’t just a football player who plays basketball. As best evidence, we offer the region championship game at Oak Ridge a year ago.

The Rebels stunned the then-No. 1-ranked Wildcats, 60-56, on a wild, weekend ride, completing a knockout of the state’s top two teams.

Maryville routed No. 2 Bearden, 79-43, only the day before. Please see: Rankings, Schmankings

In the Oak Ridge win, Blackmon pumped in a game-high 23 points, none bigger than a 7-for-8 performance from the free-throw line in the last two minutes.

“In crunch time, there are certain guys you want there,” Eldridge said, “and he’s one of them.”

Blackmon proved a dual-threat for the Rebels on the hardwood, the all-district selection good with jumper as well as off the drive.

Blackmon proved a dual-threat for the Rebels on the hardwood, the all-district selection good with jumper as well as off the drive.

“That was the best game of my life,” Blackmon said. “Competing against (Wildcat football prospect) Tee Higgins is always a lot of fun.”

It’s takes a different approach to training to excel at more than one sport. Blackmon spends two or three days a week in the gym working on shooting during the latter weeks of football. The transition from football to basketball generally isn’t complete until late January, generally.

“T.D., I think, is the exception because his instincts are so good,” Eldridge said. “Most people, it takes four weeks before they get in basketball shape. In 20 years, his transition comes faster than anybody I’ve ever coached.”

Hoop skills withstanding, it’s football where Blackmon’s future lies. The offers arrive every few days now. With the summer camp season underway, the pace is only going to increase.

Blackmon led the state-runner up Rebels in tackles for the third consecutive season last fall. His performance in the championship game loss to Ravenwood was such he was named BlueCross Bowl Defensive Most Valuable Player.

The Blount County champion with 122 tackles last season, 77 of them solo, the state’s Mr. Football capped a banner season by being named a MaxPreps high school All-American.

There comes a time for all multi-sport athletes when they go all in with just one. What if, we asked Blackmon, Tennessee football coach Butch Jones and basketball coach Rick Barnes both showed up at his door with scholarship papers?

Surely the football Vols, right?

“That’s a tough one,” Blackmon said. “A whole lot of thought would have to go into that one.”

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