A Change in Sport Pays Off for Blackwood

Turning from a wannabe basketball star into a division 1 football commit, Brooksville (FL) Nature Coast defensive end and Wisconsin recruit Rohan Blackwood is making a difference on the football field.

MADISON - Grabbing five commits in the last four weeks from players who bring an element of speed, strength and athleticism, it's become clear when Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen and his staff are trying to obtain in the future.

The first of those five commits - 6-5, 225-pound defensive end Rohan Blackwood – is a perfect example of the type of explosiveness and play-making ability Andersen wants from his defense.

In his first game of the season after being suspended the first three weeks because of an on-the-field altercation, Blackwood recorded double-digit tackles in only one half of action. Increasing his workload to a full game the following week, he registered 17 tackles, three forced fumbles and two sacks. He added 17 more tackles last week, as well, upping his average to over 11 tackles per game.

"He sparked the team for sure," said Anthony Contegiacomo, who is Blackwood's dad. "He's got a high motor. He's all over the field. He'll run 20 or 30 yards down the field to make a play if he has to. He's a high-energy player. He brings a lot of emotion to the game. He has the total package really."

While Blackwood eventually picked Wisconsin over 20 scholarship offers in early September, becoming the 12th commitment for UW's 2014 recruiting class, he was far from a must-have recruit 12 months ago.

Although recording 69 tackles, 21 tackles for loss and 15 sacks as a junior for Brooksville (FL) Nature Coast, Blackwood only had offers from Massachusetts and South Florida before the start of spring football.

The reason, according to Contegiacomo, was because of basketball. Although a highly-regarded basketball recruit coming into high school, Blackwood's body stopped growing, putting him in that in-between range of being too big for a guard and too small for a forward, causing a lot of basketball coaches to not give him more than a passing glance.

"People were looking at him and saying he was undersized and all that, but he was playing basketball seven-or-eight months out of the year," said Contegiacomo. "You can't expect him to be 250 pounds like some of these other football players because all they do is lift. (Rohan) probably played over 100 games a year in basketball. You aren't going to put all that weight on when you are running for five or six games over a weekend for several months at a time. You're not going to get very big."

Still determined to try and make it, Blackwood played AAU and high school basketball practically year around, which in turn made it a struggle for him to put on the necessary weight to attract a lot of major scholarship offers.

When he entered the summer of his senior season with no basketball scholarship offers, Blackwood and his family came to a consensus that he would focus solely on building his body for football. That decision allowed Blackwood to put on 15 pounds over the summer and become a more fluent athlete on the field.

Not surprising, more schools finally jumped into the mix, as he picked up offers from Louisville, Miami (FL), Mississippi State, Nebraska, Virginia and West Virginia, among others.

"He's been a football player for a long time," said Contegiacomo. "Basketball was just his love, but football is his new love now. He's putting it all on the table for his sport. Basketball is now what football used to be, the second sport and play it as a hobby."

Family discussions and putting family first are important to Blackwood, and it's one of the main reasons Blackwood and Contegiacomo were sold on Wisconsin when the two visited Madison for an official visit in early September.

With the Badgers having built a relationship with Blackwood and maintained a constant presence since the spring, Contegiacomo said the UW coaches making him and his son feel welcomed and exuding a family-oriented atmosphere were the tipping point.

"We had a good relationship with the coaches from Wisconsin," said Contegiacomo. "They've been around and were one of the first schools to offer. They stayed in touch with them. We met Coach Andersen at the Clear Vision Clear Dreams camp in Palm Beach. We met Coach Aranda when he came down for one of his spring football games, and we just moved forward there.

"We wanted to come up and get a feel for Madison, the campus and the environment up there. We were impressed by the family orientation there. Family is very important with the coaches' wives and kids at the game. We're a tight family, so that was a good selling point for us."

Contegiacomo said Blackwood will likely play basketball for his school this winter and enroll in the spring after getting all his academics in order. He projects to be an outside linebacker in the Badgers' 3-4 defense.

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