TROY – Troy running back Tanner Blatt answered the call and delivered – which is something he’s been doing for about a year now.
Don’t bother consulting Blatt’s bio in the Troy University football media guide. He isn’t in there. In fact, the former walk-on from Opelika quietly left the team at the end of training camp in 2018 – last season.
“Financial reasons,” he explained. “School is very expensive … and it was just a lot of stress on me and my family. I knew if I wasn’t going to be doing too much on the field, I could go home on weekends, work and I decided I could still be around the guys, the team, with strength and conditioning.”
He helps assist strength coach SaJason Finley and his staff. He has a three-hour internship, part of a 19-hour class load, working in the weight room with football players and the baseball and softball teams, too. He also delivers food for Door Dash during the week, then has been going home on weekends doing lawn maintenance jobs.
But last Sunday afternoon, the day after the Trojans lost to Southern Mississippi, running backs coach Brian Blackmon called Blatt.
“He said I have the craziest proposition of your life,” Blatt recounted Tuesday. “I need you to come back and play running back for us. He told me all about the injuries and he said, ‘Let me know what you think about it.’
“I said I can be up there this afternoon. I took a shower, got a little bit of food and took off to practice.”
Even though he hadn’t played football in more than a year and his last extended contact came in the spring of 2018, Blatt knew it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“It was definitely a surprise, but I took it as this type of stuff doesn’t happen for no reason. It’s too crazy to happen and not do anything about it,” Blatt said. “Second, it’s a great opportunity to come back and help my team when they need it.
“Whatever I’m capable of helping, I’ll be there to help them. I’ll do the best I can. That’s the reason I did it. I was still plugged into the team. I was assisting with strength and conditioning … to be around the guys. When I got the call, I thought, ‘I have to be there to help them as much as I can.’”
They certainly needed help. Troy was severely limited in the backfield going into last week’s game at Akron. Three backs – starter B.J. Smith and backups Jabir Daughtry-Frye and Jamontez Woods – were unavailable for the game. DK Billingsley moved from second team to the starter’s role. Trevon Woolfolk got his first game experience as Billingsley’s backup at Akron. Blatt was the No. 3 back.
Blatt wasn’t completely unknown to Troy head coach Chip Lindsey, who remembered him as Opelika High’s backup to star running back Josh Johnson, now a running back at Louisiana-Monroe.
The Troy coaches from last year’s staff remembered him and liked him. Blackmon had Blatt in high school and recommended bringing back the walk-on.
“He brought him up and I said, ‘He’s in school here?’” Lindsey said. “He said yeah, he was on the team for two years. So he brought him in and talked to him, made sure everything was good. So he filled in and helped us. It’s a pretty neat story.”
It gets even better. Blatt first called his older brother, Zach Blatt, who is Opelika’s head baseball coach, to let him know what had happened. The former Auburn baseball player had the typical reaction of a big brother who knows how Division I athletics work.
“He did not believe me. At all,” Blatt said. “He didn’t believe me for about four days. He thought I was just messing with him. I told my parents that evening and they didn’t believe me. Once I showed them some film from that practice, they ended up believing me.”
Being in shape was not an issue for Blatt. Again, he comes from the strength and conditioning world. But being in football shape also involves the mind as much as it does the body.
“The biggest challenge coming into it, probably getting my mental state, my confidence, ready,” said the 2016 Opelika High graduate. “It’s been years since I actually played in a game.
“To come in and jump straight into your first college football game, getting mentally prepared for that, there wasn’t a night or a day where I didn’t just sit down and concentrate and visualize where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do and how I wanted to play in that game,” he said.
The plan was to use Blatt only as needed on Saturday. But the Trojans took care of their business and routed outmanned Akron 35-7, shutting out the Zips over the final three quarters.
Lindsey had no interest in risking the health of a running back in a blowout like that. So Blatt didn’t just play, he got 11 carries. And he didn’t just get 11 carries, he gained 44 yards and was productive.
“That was awesome,” Blatt recalled Tuesday as a smile spread across his face. “Probably the greatest moment of my life so far.”
He nit-picked his carries on film, noting he had a couple opportunities to make even bigger runs. He also knew to credit his offensive line as the Trojans rushed for 270 yards.
“They all did a heck of a job,” Black said. “I think Akron had their first-string defense in, and we drove it down their throat for eight minutes straight. They couldn’t stop us.”
Nobody knows what’s next regarding Troy’s running back depth. The Trojans are hopeful that either Daughtry-Frye or Woods will be ready to go on Saturday.
If Blatt is needed for 11 more carries, he’s ready.
“If the opportunity comes, I’ll give it all I’ve got,” he said. “If they need me to help, I’ll help. If not, I’ll help the guys by supporting them and bringing energy to them in any way possible. I’ll be a great teammate. That’s what it’s about. That’s why I’m there, honestly.”
He also insists he’s not done with Door Dash, either. He’ll still be delivering Troy customers their Taco Bell, Half Shell, Santa Fe, “whatever they want,” he said.
“Door Dash is great,” Blatt said. “The hours are voluntary, so you pick when you want to work. … I think I’m going to do it on Mondays, if I have the energy.
“We’re off on Mondays, so I think can do maybe Sunday nights and Monday nights. … It’s easy work, depending on the night, and it pays pretty good. If you’re busy, it’s good. If you’re not, I can just sit in my car, do homework and study.”
Door Dash is easier on the body. On Sunday Blatt said he felt like he had been “hit by a train.”
“I hadn’t been that sore in a while,” he said. “We’re good today, though.”