Kendall Blanton managed to shed the “raw” label — great athlete, but unpolished as a football player — last season.
Blanton (6-6, 268), a junior tight end from Blue Springs South High, arrived at Missouri in 2014 as a freakish athletic presence.
He’d set a state boys’ basketball record for blocked shots as a two-sport prep star with the Jaguars — “He always reminds me,” said roommate Paul Adams, the Tigers’ junior starting right tackle — but Blanton needed time to develop as a football prospect.
Blanton didn’t see the field for two seasons, including a redshirt campaign, but he proved his value with 16 catches for 161 yards and three touchdowns in 2016.
“That one-handed catch against (Middle Tennessee) or the back of the end zone against South Carolina, his catch radius is ridiculous,” Adams said. “… The biggest thing is that his confidence has gone through the roof, which is awesome. That’s exactly what he needed. He needed just a little taste of the end zone. He finally got it, and then he started catching stride.”
Now that Blanton has turned so much promise into modest production, there’s a growing feeling he’ll emerge as a monster — and perhaps the Tigers’ biggest breakout star — this fall.
“I’ve always had confidence in myself and knew that I could make plays, but I kind of got my name out there a little bit last year,” Blanton said. “I just knocked on the door. I feel like there’s a lot more that I can do.”
Blanton missed the spring after undergoing ankle surgery in February, but he doesn’t appear to have missed a beat in training camp.
“Kendall is going to be great,” junior quarterback Drew Lock said. “… He’s progressed so much in the time that I’ve been here and become a new player. He’s super physical now and, when there’s a ball in the air around him, he’s going to go up and get it.”
Blanton has worked to become a technician in all aspects, but especially when it comes to blocking and becoming an all-around threat makes him a nightmare for opposing defenses.
“Obviously, he’s a mismatch for everybody and the fact that he can get in the box and block people is what opens all that up,” Mizzou tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley said. “You’ve got to match up with him.”
That’s not easy to, because he’s too fast for most linebackers and too big for most defensive backs.
Blanton has also become more studious, studying game film of Tony Gonzalez, Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski among others during the offseason.
He’d love to follow in the footsteps of his father, Jerry, who played linebacker for the Chiefs for seven seasons.
“I’ve been dreaming about that since forever, since before I even started playing football that was my dream,” Blanton said. “I’m another year closer, but I’ve got a long way to go.”
Perhaps he’ll perform well enough to have a chance to leave early for the NFL Draft as several Tigers have done in recent seasons.
“Shane Ray and Charles (Harris), those guys are big motivation,” Blanton said. “I want to follow their footsteps for sure, but right now I’m just focused on winning a championship with my teammates. But it’s in the back of my mind.”
Blanton, who said last year in training camp that he just wanted to get on the field, doesn’t set small goals for himself anymore.
“I want to be the best tight end in the nation,” he said, “and our tight end group wants to be the best tight end group in the nation, but I want to be the best team in the nation first off.”