By LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
TAZEWELL, Va. —
For the Dogs, a halfback change happened in the “Nick” of time.
Nick Blankenship could be forgiven if he slept a little late Saturday. The sizzling sophomore was exceptionally busy Friday evening on the football field. He was, in fact, riding a wave of success in more ways than one in Tazewell’s 47-8 win over Grundy.
Four touchdowns, an interception, an onside kick recovery, a scoring catch, and stellar defensive play earned Blankenship the Pocahontas Coal Association/Bluefield Daily Telegraph Player of the Week.
Blankenship opened the scoring with a 10-yard first quarter touchdown run. On the kickoff team, he quickly got the ball back for the Bulldogs by recovering teammate Carter Rasnick’s onside kick.
Bolting from his halfback position, he pounded couple of inside runs, and then zipped downfield to haul in a 41-yard scoring pass from THS quarterback Malik Davis. That pushed the Dogs to a two-touchdown advantage.
Enough for most players — but not Blankenship, not on this night not after only one quarter.
The 5-9, 158-pound dynamo took his place at free safety when the Wave got the ball back. With good field position, Grundy was poised to cut into the Dog advantage. Blankenship stepped in front of a Wave pass, picked it off, and scampered 30 yards with the pick into the end zone for yet another touchdown to jump-start the second period.
With Davis and Jesse Mountain then powering the attack for Tazewell in a 33-point first half, Blankenship took a few minutes away from the scoring parade. After a respite at halftime, he soon settled back into his old habits. With less than two minutes gone in the third stanza, No. 14 weaved his way through a host of Grundy tacklers and sailed 52 yards with a handoff for touchdown number four.
In addition, he made 11 tackles and defended three passes for the Bulldogs, who won their second game of the season and still hope to make the post-season with a little help from other teams.
“I had no idea I’d be a first-string running back this season,” laughed Blankenship, who was not inserted into the starting backfield until the fourth game of the season, at Chilhowie.
“If you had told me back in August that it (halfback) would happen, I guess I would have thought you were crazy. But it has been a lot of fun so far,” he said.
The move was made necessary by coach Shane Allen after senior standout Jacob McReynolds suffered an ankle injury in week number two at Graham. Blankenship gave a hint of things to come, however, that very night at Mitchell Stadium with a 40-yard TD reception from Davis.
“When Jacob went down with that injury, we worked on a couple of options,” noted Allen. “We had tough time at Sullivan Central so the next week we put Nick in the backfield and it has worked out pretty well.”
Indeed, but Allen tells all his players that such a thing could happen in a hurry.
“We plan on any player having to go in, and maybe to a new position at any time. I tell them ‘you are one play away’ at any given time. Nick got that opportunity, and it is to his credit and our advantage that he has taken up the challenge and really responded.”
Allen said that on any given week, including the Grundy game, the two double-threats Davis and Blankenship do some amazing things to both help and inspire each other.
“I’m real happy that Nick won (player of the week) – it could have been Malik getting the award (Davis rushed for 133 yards, passed for 126 more, scored once and passed for two TDs) after what he did. Malik had 367 yards in total offense the week we played Chilowie, that first game Nick started at halfback, so he (Davis) is something else, too.”
Davis noted, “Our whole team came out Friday and played hard — played well as a group. Nick did a great job and he was a big part of our win, that’s for sure.”
Blankenship noted that his dad, Chris, who played on some outstanding Tazewell teams in the early 1980s for Nick Colobro and Mickey Lusk, is a big inspiration for him.
“I like to read those clippings,” he noted. “When he (Chris) was a junior, Tazewell had something like six shutouts and won nine games in a row. Dad was pretty good on defense, and although he is real proud of what I do on offense, he always reminds me that defense wins games,” laughed Blankenship.
Tazewell teacher, former standout player and long-time coach Sam Angles remembers the father and has watched the son play.
“We had a lot of versatility back in the ‘80s,” noted Angles. “Chris had good technique and made the plays he was supposed to make. We changed our defenses often, sometimes showing as many as three looks in the same game, so being able to make adjustments for our players was just part of the job. Nick has a lot of that, too. He brings some speed and some quickness, and he’s a tough kid, for a sophomore, so that is a good combination. It worked out for him real well on Friday.”
Allen echoes those sentiments.
“Nick is on the field for every play, except sometimes on extra points or kickoffs, so he gets a real workout. Our players are expected to make plays and he does. Nick started last year defensively as a freshman and now he is a full-time player, I guess you could say. He helps a lot in the defensive backfield, kind of like a quarterback in the secondary. What the coaches appreciate is that he comes early to practice and stays late, he never complains, and he is a ‘yes sir, no sir’ type kid. That is old-school and it is a real plus for any player. Nick has that.”
Blankenship has 560 yards in five starts, has scored seven touchdowns, is averaging nearly 8 yards per carry, and has developed a fondness for long gains dating back to the Chilhowie contest when he six runs of 10 or more yards. There are reasons.
“Well, my offensive line has done a good job of making holes for me to run through,” said Blankenship. “That is where offense always starts — with the line. Another thing, I don’t look to go out of bounds if I don’t have to. I want yards, or points, or both, to help my team win. We have to move the ball to score. We have a lot of people who can score — Malik, Jesse Mountain, Juwan Jordan, Carter, and others. We help each other.”
Blankenship appreciates the hard blocking that Rasnick does every game and his toughness in practice as well as on Fridays. He says that makes his own job much easier.
“Malik is a great leader and so is Carter,” commented Blankenship. “Those guys won’t let us get down and when you have players like them who play hard both ways you don’t want to let them down.”
Blankenship is pumped up about winning the weekly honor and admits that he would like to have it happen again over the next two years.
“Oh yeah, I’d like to get another one — maybe more — and see a lot of my teammates win it, too. That would mean we are having success as a team. I think we will. These next couple of years could be great for us if we can still healthy. I am excited a ton.”
That thrilling ton only needs 1,843 more pounds — No. 14 will bring 157 right now to the total.
Player of the Week Honorable Mention
Bland County - Dylan Walker 14 carries for 67 yards; Jacob Parker 5 carries for 34 yards, 1, fumble recovery, 77 yards for score in loss at Graham.
Bluefield - D.J. Stewart 16 carries for 95 yards and 2 TDs; Corey Coppola 18 carries for 84 yards and a score; R.J. Bourne 10 of 15 passing for 230 yards and a TD pass, 16 yards rushing with a touchdown; D.J. Edwards 5 receptions for 126 receiving and a score; Brandon Lilly 3 receptions for 79 yards in win at No. 8 Class AAA Oak Hill.
Giles - Brian Mann 148 yards rushing and a score; Brett Whitlow 81 yards rushing; Tyler Perdue 48 yards rushing with a TD in win at Radford.
Graham - Dylan Cook 178 yards rushing and a TD, 188 all-purpose yards, 5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss; Charlie Benfield 117 yards rushing and a TD, 163 all-purpose yards; Ben Meade, first varsity start at QB, freshman, 3-of-4 passing for 81 yards, 2 td pass, 1 td run 1 two-point conversion run; Hunter Cook 17 tackles, caught a two-point conversion pass; Adrian Gray 9 tackles, 4 tackles for loss in win over Bland County.
Grundy - Charles McCoy 78 yards, one TD pass in loss at Tazewell.
Haysi - Tanner O’Quinn three TDs, two receptions, 1 punt return, 280 all-purpose yards, 123 return, 137 receiving; Jeffrey Bowen three touchdowns rushing; Jalen Sykes, 5-of-8 passing for 158 yards, 2 TD passes in win at Hurley.
Honaker - Casey Dye 5-of-11passing for 135 yards and three TD passes, 237 yards rushing with three TDs; Hayden Horn 63 yards rushing in win over Castlewood.
James Monroe - Isiah Clarkson 156 yards and two touchdowns rushing; Reed McNeer 62 yards rushing with a touchdown in win over Liberty.
Montcalm - Jason Grose 160 yards rushing with three TDs; Ryan Absher 71 yards rushing in win at Tygarts Valley.
PikeView - Joseph Jennings 71 yards rushing; Chris McBride 7-of-21 passing for 31 yards with two TDs; Daniel Brown 41yards rushing with two scores in loss at Meadow Bridge.
Princeton - Jordan Jones 132 yards rushing with a TD; Tahj Sho-Johnson 77 yards rushing with a TD; Jay Palmer 58 yards rushing with a TD, 48 yards passing with a score in win over Woodrow Wilson.
Richlands - Colton Staten 87 yards rushing; Ben Brown, 128 yards receiving with a score; River Michaels 1 td rush, 1 td pass in win over Abingdon.
River View - Tyree Baker 51 yards receiving in loss at Nicholas County.
Summers County - Matt Ryan two interceptions, three TD passes, 40 yards rushing, caught a two point conversion and had five tackles in the first half; Isaiah Brown, two TD receptions, one TD rushing; T.J. Smith three rushing touchdowns; Erik Lindsey one touchdown on an interception return, one on a pass reception in win at Mount View.
Tazewell - Malik Davis 133 yards rushing, 1 td (15), 126 yards passing, 2 td (41, 57) / completed six passes in win over Grundy.
Twin Valley - Austin Shortridge 125 yards rushing and three TDs, one TD reception; Shannon Adams one TD pass, one TD rushing in loss at Rye Cove.
Players of the Week
Week 1: R.J. Bourne, Bluefield
Week 2: Tahj Sho-Johnson, Princeton
Week 3: Rodney Perdue, Narrows
Week 4: LaQuell Martin, Mount View
Week 5: Hunter Moses, PikeView
Week 6: Dillion Bailey, Hurley
Week 7: Brett Whitlow, Giles
Week 8: Jay Palmer, Princeton
Week 9: Nick Blankenship, Tazewell