Persistence paves the way for Blankenship
When Grant Blankenship was 12-years old, his mom, Yvonne Blankenship, took her son to Notre Dame to visit the campus. "There was a sign hanging on a fence that blocked off the field, and it said, 'Athletes only,' Yvonne Blankenship said. "Grant pointed to that sign, and said, ‘Mom, I'm going to be on the other side of that fence one day.'" Grant, who officially inked with the Irish on signing day as a member of Notre Dame's 23-player haul in the 2014 class, was born and raised in Texas, but his extended family members in Chicago are what gave him Irish roots. "We've always lived in Texas, but we have family in Chicago," Blankenship said. "And, they are Notre Dame fans, so that's been our team. We are die-hard Notre Dame fans." A multi-sport athlete by definition, Grant, who currently checks in at 6-foot-6, 265-pounds, didn't dial in on football recruiting until the second semester of his junior year – a late start by today's standards. "Grant played basketball at school and for AAU his entire high school career," Blankenship said. "He was involved in hockey, too. He wanted to do it all, not just football. So, he was never involved in spring training sessions with the football team, and he didn't go to many camps. He's played varsity football since the 9th grade, but he really flew under the radar." After an impressive junior season that saw Grant garner 16 sacks and take home all-state defensive end honors, college programs around the country began to take notice of the elite athlete. His first offer came from Texas Tech at the end of his junior season. "After his junior season, we realized that we were behind and needed to get on the ball as far as recruitment," Blankenship said. "That spring, coaches started coming into his school and seeing Grant. In a one-month time span, he received 23 offers." By February of last year, the likes of Baylor, Cincinnati, Ole Miss, Oregon State, TCU and SMU had joined Texas Tech in extending offers. By June, Blankenship claimed over 25 offers, including powerhouses Oklahoma and Oregon. But, the Irish had yet to express interest. "As these (offers) were coming in, we were really just waiting for the Notre Dame offer," Blankenship said. "The day you could enroll at Notre Dame's summer camp, we had him signed up. We hadn't heard from them at all. So, I sent an email to [Notre Dame director of media productions] Jack Nolan that had Grant's film, and I asked if there was anything he could do to get this information to anyone who would need it. I also asked Grant's head coach at The Colony if he could call the Notre Dame staff just one more time, and he told me that if Notre Dame hadn't contacted Grant back by now, then they probably weren't interested. But, I asked him to call them just one more time, and he did." For the Blankenships, persistence pays off. "Two days later, [Notre Dame assistant coach] Kerry Cooks started following Grant on Twitter, and shortly after that, Coach Cooks called our head coach and said that after reviewing two plays of his film, he knew that he wanted him." Blankenship attended Notre Dame's camp, and after a strong performance, the Irish extended a scholarship offer. Two weeks later on July 5, Grant committed to Notre Dame. But, continuing with the trend of obstacles delaying contact between Grant and the Irish, making the phone call to give his word didn't come easily. "We were in Wisconsin on vacation at the lake," Blankenship said. "And, Grant wanted to commit. He wanted to do it right then. Well, we didn't have any service where we were staying, so I drove Grant around for what seemed like forever until we finally found some service. He called his head coach, who called the Notre Dame coaches and told them he was committing." But, recruiting didn't stop there. In January, the newly hired staff at the University of Texas made it clear to both Grant and his family that they wanted him to stay in-state. "Oh boy, did they ever (offer him a scholarship)," Blankenship said. "They visited his school and would talk to him for hours on the phone, and Grant would listen out of respect. He didn't tweet out that they offered him because he's not that type of kid. So, a lot of people didn't know he had been offered. The contact went on for a while, and they were calling my husband, Grant's coach, and me as well. Finally, my husband just had to say ‘thanks, but no thanks.'" Around that same time period, the Blankenships welcomed new Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder into their home. "From the second that I shook his hand, I knew that this was the right coach for Grant," Blankenship. "When Grant started walking down the stairs, I think VanGorder jumped up and down he was so happy. We talked for about three hours, and as we got to know him, we felt like we had known him forever." Brian Kelly also conducted an in-home visit with Grant's family. "We were very comfortable around Coach Kelly," Blankenship said. "I really liked the rapport he had with Grant. He was very candid and answered every question that we had." On Feb. 5, 2014, national signing day, Kelly said of Grant: "We loved him in camp. We had a hard time with anybody blocking him. He was a guy that just stood out right away for us when we saw him in our summer camp working out. He had a great senior year, and again, a guy that continued to just grow. I think he's just starting to hit his potential level, and it's only going to get better and better." Quiet with the media perhaps, but don't misinterpret Grant's shying from the spotlight as disinterest in playing football at Notre Dame. "He's very funny, very outgoing once you get to know him, believe it or not," Blankenship said. "He has a big heart. He's not one that has to have his face in front of a camera. But, I'll tell you he's extremely proud that he's going to Notre Dame. Everything they offer is what we want." "This entire process has been textbook perfect," Blankenship said. "We haven't had any qualms about anything." When Blankenship reports to Notre Dame in mid-June, he'll join the rest of the Notre Dame football team on the other side of the same fence he pointed at when he was a boy, but now as a young man eager to convert his family's persistence on the recruiting trail to the gridiron, and eager to reach his potential that Kelly knows could be limitless. And, a smart bet tells you the Notre Dame faithful will be glad the Blankenships' persistence paid off.
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