September 19, 2003

Speed Kills

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The saying “speed kills” does not apply to junior tailback Marcus Blanks. Instead, speed gains first downs and scores on fourth-and-goal.

“Marcus is the speed guy,” said sophomore tailback Josh Johnston. “He can run to the outside and beat people around the corners. He gives us that combination of speed and strength all around.”

For Blanks, speed is the reason he was the third most productive running back in the Ivies, and again the reason for his All-Ivy honorable mention selection. Overall, Blanks ran for 568 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Red in rushing.

But with all the focus being on Blanks’s speed, that’s not what has the coaching staff excited this season.

“Last year he was a sophomore, he was learning the position, but he still played well,” said head coach Tim Pendergast. “He’s not that Marcus Blanks anymore, he’s better.

“I think it’s a matter of having grown up in the system for two years… I think in Marcus’s case, it’s a matter of Marcus taking the role very seriously.”

Blanks agrees with Pendergast’s assessment, but in his mind, the rest of his offseason improvements have come from hard work and study.

“The experience has been key, but training with coach [Tom] Howley in the weight room, watching tape in the offseason — things like that have definitely helped,” Blanks said.

Another offseason activity that Blanks participated in was rehabilitation. He’s always had tender hamstrings, and this year he’s determined to take care of them. Using a program of squats, curls, and lunges, he has slowly transformed himself into a stronger athlete.

“That will definitely make me a more durable player,” said Blanks. “Anytime you have more muscle and more strength, it allows you to endure the brutal season.”

It’s not only something the coaching staff has noticed, it’s something they’re counting on.

“[Marcus is] much stronger than a year ago, I think much more elusive,” said Pendergast. “I think his vision has improved tremendously, I think his blocking has improved greatly, and for a guy that size … you’re talking about a guy who’s not real big physically having to block guys who’re 6-3, or 6-2 and outweighing him by 60 pounds. That’s asking a lot, but he hangs in there and he battles.”

Battles are nothing new to Blanks. In high school, he fought his way onto the varsity lineup as a freshman, and eventually broke Archbishop Moeller’s career and single-season rushing records. At Cornell, Blanks did the same, breaking into the lineup his freshman year and gaining the starting spot last season.

“I didn’t get as much as I would have liked [as a freshman],” said Blanks, “but learning the college system, learning the plays at Cornell takes some time. It’s a transition you have to go through and [for me] it went well.”

With Blanks stronger and more confident, there appears to be nothing holding him back — not even himself.

“There’s no limit,” said Blanks. “I’m going to try and go out every game and do my best. I feel like the offense is evolving to where the running game is going to be a fundamental part of what we do.”

Archived article by Matt Janiga