When he was 12 years old, Rob Blanchflower made a couple of promises to his grandfather.
The first was that Blanchflower would someday play in the NFL.
Blanchflower held up at least a portion of his promise. He was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the seventh round of the NFL draft earlier this year.
He hasn’t earned a spot on the final roster, but he’s one step closer to having to fulfill the second part of his pact.
“I also told him I was going to get him a Corvette,” Blanchflower said with a laugh.
There was a lot of question as to whether he’d even get an opportunity to fulfill the first part of his promise.
A talented tight end who was nicknamed “Baby Gronk” by his teammates at the University of Massachusetts, Blanchflower (6-4, 256) entered 2013 on plenty of NFL scouts’ radar after catching 43 passes for 462 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2012.
But he suffered a painful bilateral sports hernia – a muscle tear in the groin area - prior to the start of last season and missed the first three games.
Though the injury was only partially healed, Blanchflower chose to return to the field and wound up playing through pain for the next six games - he only played in games and did not practice - catching 27 passes for 313 yards and 3 touchdowns before shutting himself down for the season.
Blanchflower finally had surgery to repair the injury, but was unable to do much in terms of off-season workouts, at least until he joined the Steelers for their off-season workouts.
Needless to say, Blanchflower was only too happy to be back on the practice field this spring as he continued to work his way back into shape.
“Oh yeah. And it’s not something you can stop,” Blanchflower said. “You’ve got to commit to it. I’ve been working with the Steelers training staff and I feel better than I’ve ever felt. I’m looking forward to continuing to get stronger and faster and just continuing to progress to be the best that I can be.”
Blanchflower’s attitude and fortitude are befitting a player whose only full scholarship offer out of high school came from the United States Military Academy.
Keeping his promise to his grandfather in mind, he took out student loans and accepted a partial scholarship to UMass instead.
“I just went with my gut and it all worked out,” Blanchflower said.
Blanchflower went on to become the all-time leader in receptions for tight ends at UMass. And make no mistake: He’s not just a receiving tight end.
“He has a high level of aggression,” said Steelers tight ends coach James Daniel. “He’s a two-phase guy, which is different than a lot of the guys you have coming at you right now. We look for guys that are either going to be run blockers or they’re going to be pass receivers. He’s adept at both of them so that is something that interests us in him.”
Blanchflower is happy to be with a team that appreciates what are now considered old-school tight ends, not just glorified big wide receivers.
“I’m learning from the best right now in Heath (Miller). It’s a great situation, a great system to be in. I’m really blessed to be here.”
And if he can make the roster and stick around a while, maybe his grandfather will finally get that Corvette.
“I don’t think I’m going to do that anytime soon,” said Blanchflower. “I need to get a couple of years under my belt.
“Sorry Papa. Maybe one day.”
(Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.)