Photo by Devin P. Grimes / MTSU Sidelines
As the new guy on a roster, you have to step up and make plays in big-time games in order to gain the recognition and respect of your fellow players and coaches.
The Blue Raider defense has seen two such players take that step early this season and thrust themselves into the spotlight in defensive end Walter Brady and safety Reed Blankenship.
Both players performances so far have caught the eye of their head coach Rick Stockstill.
“I think Reed has done a really good job,” Stockstill said. “He got in (at safety) about 25-30 times against Vanderbilt and did a good job in practice to earn the starting position (at safety) for the game against Syracuse. To be doing what he’s doing as a true freshman is impressive.”
While Blankenship is taking care of the back end of the secondary, Brady has helped make the defensive line a menace for anyone in the opposing backfield.
“Walter has done a great job getting back into the flow (of the game),” Stockstill said. “After (sitting out) for a year, it takes time to (get back in the flow of the game). He played well against Vanderbilt and played well last week and will continue to get better.”
Yes, that’s number 12 you see on defense. No, it’s not Brent Stockstill.
The guy that people have been seeing on defense that also wears number 12 is freshman safety Reed Blankenship.
Coming into MTSU, Blankenship was one of the Raiders most highly touted prospects from their 2017 signing class.
The 6’2″ 180 lb. safety was a three-star prospect according to 247 Sports, and was arguably the top player on the team in his time at West Limestone High School in Lester, Alabama.
Also a quarterback in high school, Blankenship was voted as Alabama’s 4A back of the year as a senior in 2016.
“When I played quarterback, it helped me understand what quarterbacks do,” Blankenship said. “I know what kind of reads they would be making and how to read when they flip their shoulders, which helps a lot with me being a safety. ”
His play got the attention of the Middle Tennessee coaching staff, and he was recruited heavily and signed by MTSU assistant Mike Polly.
— Mike Polly (@CoachMikePolly) February 1, 2017
“When I first came to MTSU, I met Coach (Stockstill), who is a great guy, and then when I toured the campus it felt like home to me,” Blankenship said. “Coach Stock will talk to you about anything as well, that’s why I wanted to come to (MTSU).”
In his time at Middle Tennessee, Blankenship has been an exceptional special teams player and has worked hard to earn a starting role at safety, where he stepped up to help lead the Blue Raider defense.
Against Syracuse last week, Blankenship made five tackles and an interception late in the fourth quarter with the Blue Raiders up by just seven points to seal MT’s first win of the season.
“(Getting the interception) was awesome,” Blankenship said. “It was so exciting making a big play for my teammates and having them know that they can count on me in tough situations means a lot.”
The big-play ability by Blankenship made fellow safety Jovante Moffatt a happy man to have him in the defensive backfield with him.
“(Reed) is like the little brother of the safeties,” Moffatt said. “He has done good and is definitely growing. I like having him back there with me and he is a good communicator.”
Big boy Brady becoming the leader of the defensive line
After the MTSU defensive line graduated five players from last year, the need for leadership at the position group arose.
Redshirt junior defensive end Walter Brady has stepped up to become that leader that the Raiders were looking for.
In his first season back on the field after sitting out due to NCAA transfer rules, the Alabama native is already one of the more established players in the group after having a freshman season where he tallied seven sacks in 2015, the most out of any freshman player in the country.
Through this young season, Brady finds himself among the team leaders in tackles with eight and is second on the team with two tackles for loss. His eight tackles are also the most out of any Blue Raider defensive lineman.
Brady’s two sacks through these first two games leads the team.
He collected his first sack against Vanderbilt when he beat the right tackle to get an open shot at Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur, a shot in which Brady would deliver arguably the biggest hit of the year so far.
Against Syracuse, Brady picked up sack number two on a third and seven to pin the Orangemen back to their own thirteen yard line. The snap went awry in the end zone on the next play, causing a safety and giving the Blue Raiders a 2-0 lead to start off the ballgame.
Brady’s play-making abilities helped play a key part in giving the Blue Raider defense confidence coming out of the team’s first win.
“(Beating Syracuse) allows us to roll into (next week) with confidence,” Brady said. “Our preparation will continue to get better and being a growing team that’s a big positive for us.”
Brady was ejected from the ballgame in the third quarter for a targeting call when he made helmet-to-helmet contact with Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey.
Brady’s teammates turned up the intensity in the absence of their new big time pass rusher by coming up with big stops in key moments to pick up the win.
Going into the Minnesota game, Brady expects nothing different from his teammates while he serves his suspension in the first half of the game.
“At the end of the day, it was a tough call,” Brady said of his ejection. “I really can’t do much about it except move on and prepare for Minnesota. I have no doubt that my teammates will go out there and perform well without me. I need to be ready to do what I can to contribute in the second half so that we can come out with the win.”
Football is a brotherhood. But in order to earn the respect of your fellow brothers, you have to lay it all on the line. That quality has been exhibited by both Brady (by laying people out) and Blankenship (by laying himself out) early in their Middle Tennessee careers.
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