Whether it's Pop Warner, establishing semipro teams or coaching indoor football, the gridiron has become Blankenship's life. Recently, all those hours put into helping create teams from thin air, balancing being a coach on two or three different teams at a time and putting his heart and soul into the game has finally paid off.
On Saturday, Blankenship was inducted into the American Football News Today's Hall of Fame — being presented by his wife of 19 years, Jennifer.
“I got a little emotional,” Blankenship admits. “She got choked up, I got choked up. I mean, I'm an emotional guy as it is.”
In 2005, Blankenship helped spearhead the campaign to bring a semipro team to the city. And, just like that, the Yuma Blitz was born. However, like many births, this one was not without its complications.
They had no home field. They had little support. Until the day before their first game, they didn't have helmets and shoulder pads.
“Nobody believed in us and it was all on us,” Blankenship remembers. “The team nearly folded before it even started.”
In their first game, with a 36-year old Blankenship playing center, the Blitz were embarrassed 56-0 to the Arizona Rebels. Blankenship took over as coach three games into the season. They played their opening seven games on the road and lost them all. Finally, with the help of Cibola High, the Blitz were able to play the final two games at Raider Field — and won them both, finishing their inaugural season 2-7.
Slowly but surely, the Blitz began to improve and gain in popularity — hosting what Blankenship called, “some of the biggest crowds in semipro football.”
Despite the time commitment to the Blitz, Blankenship continued to coach at Pop Warner. In 2009, when his son, Kenny, became a freshman at Gila Ridge, Blankenship joined the Hawks' staff as a JV coach. This meant after work at his job at Quick Refrigeration, Blankenship drove over to Gila Ridge for high school practice, then headed to Pop Warner practice before finally rushing over to the Blitz's practice.
“It's a huge commitment,” he said, laughing. “Huge.”
When the Nighthawks developed as a semipro team in Yuma, a limited talent pool got Blankenship to move the team to Imperial Valley.
In 2010, as if it were a football junkie's side project, Blankenship helped create Harvest Prep Academy's 8-man football program. Last season, he spent the last five games as the offensive coordinator for the Arizona Adrenaline (now the Outlaws) of the American Indoor Football. It's in that league that Blankenship was recently named as the defensive coordinator of the Sin City Blackjacks.
Fittingly, in Blankenship's case, the Blackjacks are in their inaugural season. His job as a defensive coordinator in a league and style of football that routinely has scores in the 70s and 60s will be a difficult one.
“If I can stop one or two or three drives, we have an opportunity to win,” Blankenship said of the league that plays on a 50-yard field.
“I'm not a gambler, I'm not a partier. I'm 43-years old, I'm not going out to the clubs,” he laughed.
When he starts his new gig on Feb. 11, he comes into camp with the tagline, “Hall of Famer.” And through his hall of fame career, playing and coaching in more games to remember, what he considers his greatest accomplishment is unusual.
In 2003, while coaching the Rattlers, a Mighty Mites team, Blankenship brought together a group of cast-offs, players the other teams — like the Scorpions and Sidewinders — didn't want. It was a team that featured future Yuma Catholic stars Tommy Pistone and Kody Hazlett. With the ragtag group, the Rattlers finished 10-0 and allowed six points the entire season. It was yet another football program he helped create getting through the growing pains to become a success.
“I started the Rattlers team from scratch, started the Sidewinders from scratch, started a high school team from scratch,” Blankenship said. “Everything I've done is kind of like that. That's part of the challenge”
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