Notre Dame football recruiting: DE commit Blankenship 'a rare breed'
Grant Blankenship made up his mind.
Except there was one problem: he didn’t have cell phone service. So Blankenship took a break from his family vacation on a lake resort last weekend to find service to call Scott Johnson, recruiting coordinator for The Colony (Texas) High football program. He then had Johnson inform Notre Dame he was ready to verbally commit to the school.
It marked the end of an unorthodox recruitment between the 2014 defensive end prospect and Notre Dame.
Many programs stopped by The Colony High this spring to evaluate and offer Blankenship following a junior season that saw him tally 80 tackles, 16 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss in 10 games.
But as his junior year came to an end, Blankenship hadn’t heard much from Notre Dame. He mentioned it to Johnson, who sent the staff film of Blankenship, and soon learned they hoped to offer him.
“I told them on the phone when I first called that I was kinda upset they didn’t see me at first,” Blankenship said. “They said it was just a matter of they couldn’t find me. They were getting new staff members (in the recruiting office) and all that so it was just like a transition thing. It wasn’t the fact that they didn’t like me.”
The explanation was enough for Blankenship to schedule a visit to Notre Dame, a program he idolized growing up, for late June. He spent three days visiting, the first day taking part in a camp, and got a sense for the atmosphere, the players and the coaching staff.
He performed for defensive line coach Mike Elston on the first day and liked what he saw in the following days when he watched his future coach teaching other players.
He spent time talking to defensive linemen Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt and even met up with an old friend, freshman wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. The two attended elementary school together.
“I loved the guys that are up there. You can tell they’re all smart and they have their things together,” Blankenship said. “I don’t see that sometimes at other schools. I can walk up to a guy that barely knows English, but at Notre Dame you don’t find that at all. Everyone there has their stuff together.”
Looking back on his recruitment, Blankenship now says he knew Notre Dame was the place for him after meeting Elston. His relationship with the defensive line coach and the rest of the coaching staff tipped the scales for Blankenship after taking in what Notre Dame offered him athletically, academically and spiritually.
When he arrives at Notre Dame, Blankenship could come with some position flexibility on the defense. He’s played defensive end in a four-man front for head coach Rudy Rangel at The Colony High, but he could also play the outside linebacker position termed “Cat,” in Bob Diaco’s 3-4 defense at Notre Dame, whose primary responsibility is rushing the quarterback.
Rangel said he’s interested to see how Blankenship develops at the next level after already seeing him dominate in high school. He knew Blankenship was special as early as eighth grade and let him play varsity towards the end of his freshman season. Blankenship, who is now 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, emerged as a difference maker in his junior season after missing most of his sophomore year with a foot injury.
“He’s extremely long and athletic. His motor is by far, in my opinion, his best characteristic,” Rangel said. “He has one of the best motors that I’ve seen in my career. He goes hard all the time. A lot of teams when they found out about him would run away from him, but he’s so long that he runs you down. He’s just a terror on the defensive line.”
Plenty of colleges lined up to see the stud from Texas this spring. In previous years, Blankenship was playing on the basketball team and often out of the sight of college coaches in the spring. This season he turned his focus to football and the attention came in bunches.
Arkansas, Baylor, Ole Miss, Oklahoma and Oregon are just a few programs that extended offers to him. Blankenship said the Sooners were neck-and-neck with Notre Dame at one point in his recruitment.
“When he stayed with us this offseason, within the first two weeks of open recruiting he had 10 offers,” Rangel said. “Then it got to 20 and then to 30. I have a recruiting coordinator and I want to say he’s at about 40. And that’s because the smaller ones are all afraid to offer him. He’s got 40 legitimate college scholarship offers.”
Rangel has already been working to find more ways that Blankenship can impact games for The Colony. The head coach plans to play him both ways as a senior.
“We put that cat down and his job is to go the quarterback and he just ‘sics’ them. We’re going to also start him at tight end,” Rangel said. “He’s a ridiculous blocking and catching tight end.”
Blankenship ranks as a three-star prospect according to 247Sports.com and Rivals.com. 247Sports slates Blankenship as the No. 24 strongside defensive end in the 2014 class. Rivals ranks him at No. 26 at the position.
“He’s a rare breed. He’s one of those guys that are hard to even handle in practice when he’s running scout because he just knows one speed,” Rangel said. “We know the play’s going to work or not based on if Grant can stop it or not. He’s a special kid.”