NFL.com's "Why I Play" series provides a thoughtful peek into the minds of the next generation of NFL players to better understand what drives them to make it in the league. Other prospects included in this series: Auburn DT Derrick Brown, TCU CB Jeff Gladney, Florida edge Jonathan Greenard, USC OT Austin Jackson, Utah CB Jaylon Johnson, Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor and Michigan LB Josh Uche. Today's featured prospect is ...
2020 NFL Draft standing: Blacklock sits at No. 19 on NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah's ranking of the top 50 prospects and is projected by many to be a first-round selection in April's draft.
Prospect bio: Blacklock showed out as a redshirt freshman for the Horned Frogs, garnering Freshman All-American and Big 12 Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year honors after posting 27 tackles, 6.5 for loss and two sacks in 14 starts. Unfortunately, an Achilles injury sidelined him the next season. Blacklock dropped 25 pounds during his rehab year, which showed in his explosive 2019 play, as he earned first-team All-Big 12 honors (40 tackles, nine for loss, 3.5 sacks in 12 starts). His father, Jimmy, is in the University of Texas Hall of Fame for his basketball career and is currently a full-time coach for the Harlem Globetrotters (he played for the team from 1974 to 1987).
This interview, conducted on March 5 at NFL Network in Culver City, California, was condensed and edited for clarity.
How I started
I started playing football when I was 5 years old. My parents kinda threw me in it. They knew I was a rough kid, just always wanting to play around and get in the mud with my cousins and friends. They kinda knew football was for me. I was fast. I played running back, like jukin' people, makin' people chase me.
Growing up, I played football, basketball, baseball, track and I did swimming, so I did a lot of sports. I picked up swimming and basketball last, but that was later when I got older. I saw track for the first time when I saw people running on TV. I didn't know what it was. They looked like they were racing, so I just told my mom to put me in it. When I got to high school, that's when I started focusing more on football.
Probably my pops. Knowing the way he's worked and what he does for our family, I try to fill those shoes. He's created a legacy for all of us. I never felt like I had to fill his shoes, but he inspires me to succeed in my own journey. He always tells me to have an edge. Have an edge on people no matter what I'm doing, be one step ahead, go the extra mile. Things that somebody else wouldn't do, like stay late, do extra stuff, just have an edge in any possible way. And that is both physically and mentally.
Who I play for
My biggest challenge was probably when I tore my Achilles. You know, it just sucks when you're not able to play with your team, and you're in your house -- your college house -- hearing the screams from the stadium down the street. You're watching the games on TV and stuff like that. It's really hard, but I think I handled it pretty well.
I've wanted to play in the NFL my whole life, so that injury was scary. You can never take the thing you love for granted, no matter if it's practice or a game. You never know when it will be your last time. I thought it was mine at the time. But you know, it's a good thing it wasn't. When I first started rehab on my Achilles, I knew I wasn't going to let it keep me down. I just had the mindset of, I gotta do something to get to do something else. You gotta go through that process and just handle it. When I finally was able to get back on the field, it felt good, just seeing all of the progressions from when we started. Now, my Achilles hasn't bothered me since the day I tore it so ... very good doctors. (laughs)
My family really helped me through that injury. I've always played for them, my pops, mom, sisters and close friends. You know, everybody in that little circle. I think everyone pretty much knows. I let people know how I feel about them or if they help me out in life. I think that's important.
What keeps me going
I've always had the passion and that part has never changed over the years. My favorite part of game day is the smell. Game day has a specific smell. I can't describe it; it just smells like game day. I guess it's probably the barbecue and all that. I smell all that when we walk to the stadium. I know something's happenin'. The vibe. It's not a normal day.