For a junior who didn’t see the field much in the fall, spring football is essential.
With positions opening up and auditions being held an impression needs to be made if that same junior wants to be anything more than a bit player as a senior.
Unless you are Aaron Blank, apparently.
The Mountain Pointe senior has been one of the reasons the Pride’s defense has pitched shutouts in the second half in all three games (42 points overall) heading into Friday’s game at Sierra Vista Buena.
Blank has been a captain twice and ranks third on the team in tackles from his middle linebacker spot to become one of the surprise stars of the season thus far.
All this despite the fact that Blank missed nearly all of spring ball due to an injury in rugby that led to shoulder surgery and a lot of frustration because he watched other players make a run for a starting position.
“It was so hard,” said Blank, who began the season with 11 tackles against Hamilton. “I came back the last week for a couple of practices and did the best I could. I just wanted to make sure I left an impression.”
Pride coach Norris Vaughan admits Blank wasn’t really on the radar until late in the process of putting a lineup together.
“He kind of lost his way (as a junior) and then had surgery,” Vaughan said. “He had a lot to make up and to his credit, he really matured and worked his way into the lineup.”
Stepping out to midfield with his fellow Mountain Pointe captains against state powerhouse Hamilton really registered with Blank as a fulfillment of the hard work paying off.
“The coaches noticed my work ethic and how I played in practice,” the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Blank said. “It meant a lot to get to that point. It was great, but I have to keep working to keep it.”
Early in the game against Hamilton, Blank broke free and got a clear shot on quarterback AJ Thigpen to really get the juices flowing.
“I hit the quarterback really hard and it felt good,” Blank said. “I kind of knew after that I was going to keep making plays. Our defense is pretty good and we all can make plays. I just want to keep doing my part.”
Blank said he was comfortable in his first start because he was confident the work he put in as the scout team linebacker and the work he did in the weight room after the surgery had him prepared for what was to come.
“I work hard to get to the ball and I am getting better,” he said. “On the scout team I made a lot of plays and we had a good offense last year. I knew if I got the chance I would be ready.”
Blank, who is averaging 7.7 tackles and had a fumble recovery late in the Desert Vista win, has that toughness that seems to be associated with most rugby players.
“He’s an overachiever that will try to outwork everyone,” Pride defensive coordinator Jeff Decker said. “Aaron is smart and puts himself in the right position to make plays.”
One of times he was out of position came on the rugby field when he was trying out for the All-American team in April. He made the squad and was scheduled to go to England for two weeks when the injury knocked him out.
It was even more maddening when the injury time bled into his development on the football field and seemingly kept him out of the coaches’ view.
“It was the worst and there were a lot of guys working hard,” Blank remembered. “It makes me appreciate where I am now more because I knew what it was like to be on the sidelines long before I got the chance to start.”
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