A pretty reliable source informed Andre Blackett that he was better suited to play a position that’s closer to the line of scrimmage.
“My mom [Flo] used to tell me that I was going to be a linebacker, but I never wanted to believe it,” said Blackett, a URI senior who stands at an even six feet and weighs 235 pounds.
After registering a career-best 14 tackles for the Rhode Island football team last Saturday, Blackett should be thankful for the awakening provided by his mom. Mind you, it wasn’t just Flo who served as a source of enlightenment.
The transition from high school to college football wasn’t supposed to include a position change. Blackett viewed himself as a safety. That’s where he expected to line up at Pennsylvania’s Lackawanna College. After redshirting during the 2016 season, Blackett came face-to-face with his true gridiron calling on the eve of 2017 spring practice work.
In the eyes of the Lackawanna coaching staff, Blackett was better suited at outside linebacker than safety. Looking back, the news was tough to hear – and digest.
“Initially, I was mad. I’m not going to lie. I never viewed myself as a linebacker,” said Blackett.
All it took was one spring practice period for Blackett’s outlook to pivot to a more upbeat direction.
— Lackawanna Football (@LCFalconsFB) February 6, 2019
“Once I got to play [the position] on the field, I enjoyed it. In the running game and passing game, I still felt like a safety. Now, I didn’t have to read as much. I actually felt pretty comfortable,” he said.
There’s another reason why Blackett went from resisting change to embracing it. Think of it as somewhat similar to removing the training wheels from a bike so a youngster can ride independently.
“I play aggressively all the time. That’s how I am, but I didn’t know how aggressively I would be in the box,” said Blackett, referring to the imaginary area where linebackers traditionally line up. “I was able to show more aggression as a linebacker than I did at safety. I think it fits me pretty good.”
On URI’s website, Blackett lists Ray Lewis – former Baltimore Ravens standout and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame – as his favorite player. The respect that Blackett has for one of the top linebackers in NFL history and how he went about his business, deepened upon “LB” appearing next to Blackett’s name.
“His motivation and how he held himself to a high standard when he played the game, I really enjoyed that,” said Blackett when asked about Lewis, a two-time Super Bowl champion whose pro career spanned 17 seasons (1996-12). “Watching [Lewis] play linebacker, it made me want to embrace it more when I got moved there. Now I can show my aggression at the same position that he did.”
Blackett played two seasons at Lackawanna (2017-18) before embarking upon the next phase of his football journey. Before departing the junior-college, he expressed his appreciation to Lackawanna head coach Mark Duda and defensive coordinator Bill Reiss for broadening his football horizons.
“Thinking back to the coaching staff, they were right all along. I told them thank you,” said Blackett. “They made me a better football player.”
Mind you, we’re talking about a football player who in 20-career JUCO games posted the following numbers: eighty-eight career tackles, nine sacks, two interceptions, and two pass breakups. All those individual achievements came as a linebacker – first as an outside linebacker in 2017 before shifting to middle linebacker for the 2018 season at Lackawanna.
“At outside linebacker, you play more on the edge and you’re more involved in [pass] coverage,” said Blackett. “As a middle linebacker, you’re more of a run stopper.”
Blackett enrolled in URI in time to participate in spring practice in 2019. On Rhody’s depth chart, he’s listed as an inside linebacker.
“When I first got [to Kingston], I prided myself in showing the coaches that I’m here for a reason … to open up some eyes,” he said.
Ask Blackett to talk about last Saturday’s big game against Delaware and he’ll deflect all praise to his defensive ‘mates. On the season, he leads the Rams with a team-high 20 tackles.
“My teammates helped me in a lot of different ways. They were getting a good push up front. Everyone was making good adjustments to the ball. I had a nose for the ball, but I thought we were playing well together. It wasn’t just me,” he said. “We all get on each other about anything that happens so we’re better prepared for the next play.”
What advice would Blackett have for a football player who’s asked to switch positions?
“Maybe not every coach knows what they’re saying, but the best ones will put you in a position to make the most plays,” he said. “You’ve got to embrace it.”
“It’s funny how [the Lackawanna coaches] saw it, but so did my mom,” said Blackett, a linebacker and darn proud of it.