It’s been a crazy ride for Reed Blankenship through his first NFL season.
The Alabama native and former Middle Tennessee State University standout went from an undrafted free agent to earning a spot on the Philadelphia Eagles' 53-man roster after training camp. He then went from a player who didn’t leave the bench much to a key special team contributor to a productive starter because of an injury in the secondary.
On Sunday, that first-year ride will conclude on the biggest stage in football when the Eagles play the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
Jordan Cantrell, Blankenship’s head football coach at West Limestone High in North Alabama, has watched from a distance. In a way, he saw this coming, even though some of the details weren’t included in that vision.
“At a young age, we knew he’d make it to the league if everything set up right,” said Cantrell, who went from West Limestone to Elmore County and is now the head coach at Florala High. “Now, the Super Bowl in the first year, that’s big time. You know what I mean? We wouldn’t have guessed that.”
Blankenship was a four-year starter at West Limestone, a Class 4A school in Lester, Alabama. Cantrell said they first started working with him as a middle school athlete and recognized quickly he was a special athlete and person. Blankenship played cornerback and wide receiver as a freshman. He moved to safety as a sophomore and also moved on the offensive side of the ball.
“I called the offense there, and I said, Reed, we got to get the ball in your hands every snap. You’re going to have to play quarterback,” Cantrell said. “That first year, we didn’t have a great year because he was in 10th grade. But he was the team captain, so that tells you how much we believed in him, and the team believed in him. The next two years, he was throwing for touchdowns, running for touchdowns, catching touchdowns.”
Cantrell recalled one game during Blankenship’s junior season when he had in the neighborhood of 20 tackles, blocked a field goal, rushed for 250 yards, threw a touchdown, and caught a touchdown.
“Coaches I texted about it wouldn’t believe it,” Cantrell said. “They would have to see it on film. It was like a video game like you created the player on Madden or something.”
Blankenship was the Class 4A Back of the Year in 2016 and a two-time all-state player. He was also a standout basketball player who was part of the 2015 state championship team.
Recruiting wasn’t a swift process, but Blankenship started getting more attention after attending a satellite camp at Samford. He was rated as a three-star recruit by 247 Sports and had mostly Group of 5 or FCS offers. He did have Power Five offers from Illinois and Minnesota but did not have an SEC offer.
He chose Middle Tennessee State.
“God has a plan,” Cantrell said. “And the plan that God put him on was a perfect plan. There is no reason to look back and say this or that. The perfect plan has been laid out for him. Middle Tennessee was the place he needed to go. It’s been great for him. I know he doesn’t have any regrets.”
Blankenship played 55 career games over five years at Middle Tennessee. He started nine games as a true freshman and was a key member of the 2018 team that played UAB in the Conference USA championship game. He had a 100-yard interception return for a TD in 2019 and a 90-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Marshall in 2021. Overall, he had 419 tackles, nine interceptions and 19 pass breakups.
Once again, though, he was overlooked. He didn’t get an invitation to the NFL Draft Combine and wasn’t drafted. He received $55,000 to sign with the Eagles, according to a story published on NBCSports.com.
“You know, coming in undrafted, one of the lowest guys on the totem pole, I knew I had to work,” Blankenship said in the NBCSports.com story. “I knew the odds were against me, and I still feel like there’s odds against me.”
Reed Blankenship, on like the 14th snap of his career, comes up huge with an interception of Aaron Rodgers! pic.twitter.com/VhrHVqgXdg— Shane Haff (@HAFFnHAFF_TPL) November 28, 2022
Once Blankenship got on the field this season, he made an impact. He was thrust into the lineup because of an injury to a teammate against Green Bay, and he responded with six tackles and a second-quarter interception. He started four of the next six regular season games and played well. He started the first playoff game and had five tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass deflection in a win over the New York Giants. In the NFC championship game, he only played seven snaps on defense, but he had four tackles and a forced and recovered fumble that ended the 49ers' last possession.
On 4th & 3, Deebo Samuel loses 7-yds & fumbles recovered by Reed Blankenship#49ers 7 #Eagles 31 4ᴛʜ pic.twitter.com/wUYYBPSBLv— Sᴘᴏʀᴛs 24/7 (@Sports_24x7_) January 29, 2023
"I play with a chip on my shoulder still, and I'm not going to lose that for the rest of my career," Blankenship said in the NBCSports.com story. "That's how I was raised, and that's how it's going to be for the rest of my career."
Now, he's preparing for the biggest game of his career. And his friends, family and former coaches are also preparing.
"For us, it's just a sense of pride, and we're so happy for him and his family," Cantrell said. "I don't know how it's going to feel. For me, personally, it will be emotional. I really care about him and love him. The coaches that coached with us, too, it's pretty dang cool. We're just really proud of him."
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