Before every Missouri football practice, sophomore Kendall Blanton bounds onto the Kadlec Athletic Fields and seeks out first-year coach Barry Odom.
“Every day, he runs out on the practice field, gives me a high-five and says, ‘It’s a great day to be a Tiger,’” Odom said.
Blanton, a 6-foot-6 and 260-pound tight end from Blue Springs South High, is an endless font of energy and positivity.
“They gave me this chance to be here,” said Blanton, who was also a prep basketball star. “I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to be anywhere else, and they gave me this chance to be here and I’m grateful for that. So, it’s a great day to be a Tiger every day I come out here.”
Perhaps no day was greater — at least, so far — than two weeks ago when Blanton caught his first career touchdown during a 61-21 rout against Eastern Michigan.
It was Blanton’s first trip to the end zone since Nov. 1, 2013, when he scored on an 85-yard catch and run in leading Blue Springs South to an 11-8 upset against Rockhurst during the opening round of the Missouri Class 6 state playoffs his senior year of high school.
Against Eastern Michigan, Blanton actually fell down on the 13-yard, third-down TD lob from sophomore quarterback Drew Lock. After lining up at halfback, Blanton tripped in traffic as he released through the line, but Lock didn’t give up on the play.
“We made a little eye contact when he was on the ground,” Lock said. “When he saw that I was still looking at him, he got up pretty quick. I was like, ‘All right, I’m going to back up and just chuck this bad boy up to the big guy.’”
Blanton was appreciative that Lock gave him a chance to recover. Lock bought time against the rush by back-pedaling in the pocket.
“Everything was happening so fast,” Blanton said. “I remember looking at him to make sure he was still looking at me ... and I tried to get up as fast as I could.”
Does it bother him that the artistry of his first career score was low? Not even a little.
“Anyway I can get it, I want to get it,” Blanton said with a smile. “It’s not like I had an idea how I wanted it to go down. I’m just glad I’ve got one under my belt.”
Currently, he’s tied for fifth on the Tigers with six receptions, but Blanton also is becoming a complete player. He’s been utilized extensively as a blocking tight end, both in line on the edge and as a lead blocker from the halfback position.
“Kendall is a monster …,” junior tight end Jason Reese said. “That guy has been great since the day he stepped on campus. He’s been focused and just waiting for his chance. I knew once his chance came, he wasn’t going to let that go to waste.”
Blanton caught four passes for 31 yards, both career highs, against Eastern Michigan and added two catches for 26 yards last week against Georgia.
Odom even joked that if Blanton added 20 pounds, he might have to move to offensive tackle.
“He’s too athletic to be a tackle …,” sophomore left guard Kevin Pendleton, a Lee’s Summit West graduate, said. “That’s my guy. We came in together out of the same area ... so seeing him succeed is amazing. I’ve known what he could do since high school down at Blue Springs South. To see him actually be utilized and making plays, it's awesome.”
With his size and speed, Blanton is a matchup problem for opposing defenses. He’s only played in three college games, but he could become the latest in a line of dominant Tigers tight ends as he gains more experience.
“I’ve always felt like I can make plays for this team and for myself,” Blanton said. “I’ve always had confidence in myself. I’ve never once doubted myself in any aspect of the game. Just to be out there kind of confirms it and proves it to anyone who has doubted me. That’s all it is.”