Blanton weighs Gridiron Glory vs. Olympic Gold

DaBryan Blanton came to Norman last fall with every intention of being the next multi-sport start at Oklahoma. But after his outstanding freshman season on the track, Blanton may never return to the football field.

NORMAN, Okla. — DaBryan Blanton is the most famous OU football player to never play in an official game. And the question of whether he will ever play in an official game still remains unanswered. It is a question that every Sooner fan is wondering about and a question that the Oklahoma Football and Track and Field coaching staffs are worried about. But when you talk to Blanton it doesn't appear that he has a care in the world.

"Right now I just want to concentrate on my track season, and when that is over I will sit down and think about football and see what I want to do," said Blanton. "I will worry about that when the time comes and when I have a chance to talk to Coach (Bob) Stoops in the summer. Right now track is what I want to do and I am not sure what I am going to do in football."

Blanton came out of Forney, Texas in 2001 as the top prep sprinter in the country holding the nations' top time in the 100 meters. However, he was equally talented in football, rushing for 2,355 yards and 33 touchdowns his senior year en route to earning Texas Class 3A Player of the Year honors, on top of being named one of the top 100 players in the country in many different publications.

Which sport Blanton was best at was a matter of debate, but in many ways it didn't matter. Blanton had the skill it seemed to excel at both sports and the Sooners won the recruiting battle primarily because they were the top school to guarantee Blanton that he could participate in both sports.

Blanton participated in both sports his freshman season, and at least early it appears track is where Blanton may have the biggest impact at OU. I realize it isn't really fair to make that statement because most freshman don't have a big impact in football, while a talented freshman often will score big in track and field. However, Blanton's switch to wide receiver from running back has not been an easy one. Blanton has not proven to be a natural receiver, but he did show steady improvement working on the scout team as the season wore on.

Spring practice would have done Blanton a world of good, but Bob Stoops stuck to his word and as soon as the Sooner returned from the Rose Bowl, Blanton joined the Sooner track team. It didn't take long for Blanton to make his mark on the national scene as only a technical mistake kept Blanton from finishing as one of the top three sprinters in the indoor 60-meter dash.

Blanton quickly jumped to the outdoor season and established himself as one of the nations' best sprinters. Heading into the Big 12 post season meet Blanton has posted the best 100-meter time in the conference at 10.19 at the Texas Relays on April 4. However, it was his second place finish in the 100-meter dash at the prestigious Penn Relays with a time of 10.44 that was his breakout performance.

Blanton has been named the Big 12 Track and Field Athlete of the Week twice already this season, and without question Blanton has served notice that he could be the best sprinter in collegiate track as a freshman.

"DaBryan has already had a major impact on our team and on track and field nationally as well," said Sooner Sprint Coach Shannon Atkinson. "DaBryan hasn't had any real fall training, so he doesn't have a very sincere base underneath him. I have had to answer a few questions from a few coaches and spectators along the way about why I haven't ran him in more the 100 and 200 meter races this year. It is just because I have to be careful not to get the young man injured. I have had to rework some of my workouts in order to keep him healthy throughout the year, and only race him in big races like the Texas Relays or the Penn Relays."

"Obviously, with our conference meet coming up this weekend we have increased his workouts to get him into the best shape possible," Atkinson continued. "He started out at conference indoors being a freshman All-American and did really well all season. He should have made the finals of the national meet, but he made a freshman mistake about two meters out from the line and didn't lean. He still earned All-American honors, because he was one of the top eight American finishers according to the time. He came out and joined us late with a great attitude as the kid just wants to win."

Blanton is still a very raw talent who has barely scratched the surface of his enormous talent. The sky is still the limit for this talented freshman and that greatness could be accelerated if he would concentrate just on track and field.

"I think I can honestly say that he is going to be one of the next great U.S. sprinters," said Atkinson. "Definitely, in our conference, he is one of the best out there. I only know of one or maybe two other young men that may be able to run with him right now. Even though his best event is going to be the 200-meters, he is running right now as well as anyone in the country in the 100-meters. So, whenever we do get a chance to turn him lose in that 200-meter it will be exciting because his potential is just off the scale. We are coming into a time when our workouts are pretty intense and I haven't thrown anything at him that has fazed him yet."

That being said, despite his young age Blanton has the potential to be the next great U.S. sprinter to go internationally and bring back the gold.

"He definitely has that kind of potential and the great thing about DaBryan is that he has great range," said Atkinson. "He could step up and run a great quarter if he wanted to. When we run him in the 100-meters it is basically to develop his speed a little bit more, and to build up his confidence for a longer race like the 200-meters. Yes, I definitely feel that he can be one of the next great U.S. sprinters in both the 100 and 200 meters. We are going to get him ready next year to make some world teams, because the 2004 Olympics are coming up and we want to at least get him on a couple of relay teams if possible.

Blanton does have Olympic goals and he can see gold in his future, but he knows that he is basically a rookie on the U.S. International sprint scene and knows that he has a lot to learn.

"I was just telling my mom the other day that I am happy to be doing as well as I am because I am just a freshman," said Blanton. "I am looking forward to many great years to come. I think football helped me get ready for this year. The weight training that I went through to get ready for football made me stronger. In track and field I have more strength than most of the guys I run against. Coach (Jerry) Schmidt has a great strength program and he and his staff has helped me out greatly."

Blanton has already posted some of the best times nationally, but he knows that he could be ready to bust out as his training picks up at the end of the season.

"I think my season has gone pretty well, because I came out in the middle of indoor and I didn't get the experience that the other athletes got," said Blanton. "Coach Atkinson worked with me on my speed, technique and block work, so I think he has helped me a lot. That training has helped me a lot in the outdoor. I knew that outdoor was my thing, because I had never really run indoor before. I knew because of the work he did with me that I would do well at outdoor. Coach Atkinson and I talk about going faster all the time. We think I am ready to go in the nines and I think I am ready to do it in the next three meets."

If Blanton can indeed get his 100-meter time under ten seconds that would mean that Blanton would win the Big 12 Conference Championship, the NCAA Regional and NCAA title. Those are big goals, but goals that are achievable. If he can get that time down in that area the Olympics become a real possibility.

"Making the Olympic team has been one of my goals since I was in middle school," said Blanton. "I do think about it, but I don't let it interfere with what I am doing right now."

Blanton's emergence in the sprint has certainly put his football future in question. Blanton is still currently on a football scholarship and the OU coaching staff does plan for Blanton to return in the fall.

"Right now DaBryan is running track with Coach (Bob) Stoops' blessing and he is doing a heck of a job," said Offensive Coordinator Chuck Long. "He missed all spring with us to run track, but we knew that he would. That will probably be the case for him as long as he is playing football. However, we realize the unique potential he has in football and hope that he returns to us in time for two a-days. We realize he might be behind the other wide receivers, but he made tremendous strides as a wide receiver last season. We could see the improvement every day. We, as a staff, have been working on at least five to six plays designed specifically for him that could take advantage of his great speed. He could have an impact for us even if he is only playing a few plays every game."

Whether or not Blanton will give the football those few plays a game remains very much in doubt. No doubt the football coaches still want Blanton on their squad next fall, but without question the track bug has taken a big bite out of Blanton's sport psyche.

"He has put football on the back-burner just so he can focus on track and field right now," said Atkinson. "There is still a possibility that he will be back on the football field next year. Believe it or not, we are pushing for it. We love to have two sport athletes here, because it says a lot of good things about your program when you have a young man that can excel in two programs. We definitely want him to be out there next year, but we are not going to put any pressure on him at this point. We are going to let him sit back and focus so that he can get his academics where they need to be and compete well for us at the Big 12 Conference meet."

Bob Stoops has always been good about pushing his players to excel in other sports. In fact, Stoops recently sent Mark Bradley to the Sooner track team to help Blanton on the relays. Blanton has yet to make his mark on the Sooner football team and his possibilities and potential are only a dream at the moment. However, in track his dreams are real and his goals are attainable.

Blanton's goal is to be on the U.S. Olympic team in 2004, and to make that goal a reality he will have to work harder than he ever has in his life and give track all of his concentration and all his attention. For Blanton to play football this upcoming year, he will have to be convinced that his gridiron play won't interfere with his effort to wear the Red-White and Blue in the next summer Olympics. And right now Blanton can't see the football stadium, because his eyes are totally focused on Olympic Gold.

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