OSU's Justin Blackmon: The pride of Plainview
BY JIMMIE TRAMEL World Sports Writer
Thursday, December 23, 2010
12/23/10 at 4:52 AM
ARDMORE - Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon came from out of the blue to place fifth in Heisman Trophy balloting and win the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to college football's top receiver.
In position to say "I told you so" is Plainview High School's class of 2008.
On page 102 of Plainview's '08 yearbook is a Blackmon photo next to a caption that reads "most likely to appear in Sports Illustrated."
"We nailed that one on the head," Blackmon's former Plainview classmate and teammate Garrett Moore said after a season in which Blackmon's name showed up in three SI articles. "We knew he was something special."
From a production standpoint, Blackmon really did come from nowhere (only 20 catches last season) to become a consensus All-American. Said coach Mike Gundy, "Justin Blackmon went from a five to a nine in one year."
From a locale standpoint, Blackmon came from a Carter County school with an Ardmore mailing address.
"We are not a town," Plainview athletic director Johni Bell said. "We are just a community outside of Ardmore. So it's a totally different dynamic. This community revolves around what happens at this school because there are no businesses here. There are no parades down main street. There is none of that."
If Plainview's sole source of pride is the accomplishments of students and alums, then blame Blackmon for triggering a chest-swelling epidemic. He has given the community a legit celebrity.
Blackmon and Moore ate dinner Sunday night at Budro's Rib Joint in Ardmore. A female diner noticed them and asked a waiter to confirm Blackmon's identity. She followed Blackmon to the parking lot and got an autograph.
Moore, a longtime Blackmon friend, said, "It was funny for me to see, the fact that he was like Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt. She was giddy and shaky."
Born in California, but bred in Oklahoma
Blackmon came to Oklahoma from a state where movie stars dwell. He was born in Oceanside, Calif., to Warren and Donna Blackmon. Warren is a former Marine, and be careful how you categorize that. "There is no such thing as an ex-Marine," he said.
Warren is both retired and tired, in a non-weary sort of way. He moved his family to Oklahoma after accepting a position with tire manufacturer Michelin in Ardmore.
Justin was in the second grade when the big move occurred. "He was not happy about it at all," Warren said. "He thought his dad was crazy to relocate from California to Oklahoma. He actually said he wished I had left him in California."
Years later, when Justin was a high school senior, Warren took another job within the company and moved to South Carolina. But Justin had come to love Plainview so much that he stayed in Oklahoma.
Breathing a sigh of relief were Plainview coaches. They were thankful to learn they wouldn't be losing the franchise. As a senior, Justin earned All-State honors in football and basketball.
Participation in sports is what made Justin embrace living in Oklahoma. And if you want to pinpoint the spot where his athletic career got rolling, it was Skateland.
Justin never had played roller hockey, but joined a team and immediately started snaring MVP awards, according to his father.
If there's such a thing as an athletic savant, Justin is it. Point him toward competition and he's got all the right programming.
Moore took Justin snowboarding in Colorado. Justin took half a lesson and graduated from big-eyed rookie to mountain conqueror. (A bigger challenge was finding gear for his size 15 feet.)
Justin participated in baseball instead of track until his senior year at Plainview. In his lone spring as a trackster, he won a state title in the long jump, placed second in the high jump and helped his team be a state runner-up.
Bell, who was Justin's track coach, will never forget this: After running an anchor leg in the final event of the state meet, a teary-eyed Justin said he was sorry for letting the team down.
Plainview finished fifth in the 4x400 relay and finished six points behind Millwood in the team chase. Bell told Justin it wasn't his fault and encouraged him to channel heartbreak in a manner that would benefit himself and future teammates.
A bigger heartbreak came three-and-a-half years earlier.
On page four of Plainview's 2008 yearbook is a collage of pictures that includes a photo of Blackmon sitting in his vehicle. Hanging from the rear view mirror is a white wristband with "5" stitched on it.
No. 5 was the jersey number of Brett "Sugar" Spells.
Blackmon and Spells were childhood pals. Brett's older brother, Aaron, laughed while rehashing a long-ago story about taking the kids trick-or-treating. Someone jumped from behind a tree and frightened Justin and Brett. They basically had to be dragged to front porches the rest of the night.
Better times were had at the lake or at sleepovers or when playing ball. (Brett was a quarterback. Justin was a receiver who exhibited exceptional ball skills even as a wee lad.) Aaron said Brett and Justin were among four or five kids who were always spending time together.
In October of 2004, when Brett was a 15-year-old freshman, he was riding to school with a friend. The driver swerved to miss a deer and his pickup truck hit a tree. A few days later, Justin and Moore were among pall bearers at Brett's funeral.
"My brother rededicated his life to Christ the night before he died and passed away the next morning," Aaron said. "This was really (a moving experience) and I think it affected not only Justin, but all of those kids for the rest of their lives. Brett was like a brother to them."
Moore said losing Brett "changed us all and brought us closer together."
Plainview football players got No. 5 wristbands in memory of Brett. Justin said he keeps his wristband at his parents' home. "He was a good friend of mine, so obviously it means a lot to me."
Aaron said it means something to him that his brother is still meaningful to Justin.
"I love him to death," Aaron said. "I would do anything for him."
When Aaron was asked if Brett is still "with" Justin in any way, this was the response: "I don't doubt one minute that Justin keeps him in his thoughts every time he steps onto the field. If the good Lord upstairs is letting him do anything, Brett's favorite thing was football and I would be almost certain he would be watching Justin every time he steps on the field."
And Brett would no doubt notice that Justin finally put some meat on his bones.
Man of many talents
Blackmon excelled at more than just sports.
He was a member of a decorated choir at Plainview.
He played the drums at halftime of football games until a coach convinced him he really needed to be in the locker room with teammates. Justin was bummed about that, but he understood.
Justin is even good at politics, sort of. He was voted senior class president. "He's full of charisma," Bell said. "You couldn't not like Justin."
It's apparently difficult to find something Justin can't do. "You noticed that as well?" Moore asked.
Despite all the justified talk about Justin being a natural in his endeavors, he was not blessed with a blue-chip body.
David Gilliam, who coached Blackmon in junior high, said, "I don't know how to put this where it doesn't sound bad. He had big old feet and was kind of a skinny kid, but you knew he was going to grow."
Justin's older brother, Warren, Jr., had bigger physical issues to overcome. Their father said Warren, Jr., was born with club feet. He underwent major surgeries as a baby and was in casts and braces until age 2 or 3.
"They said he would never get to play athletics or do things," Warren, Sr. said. But Warren, Jr. played football, baseball and basketball for Ardmore High.
"He did a lot of extra things outside of school so he could get in position to play over there," Justin said. "He worked hard and did whatever he had to do to get it."
When Justin grew into his body, it was bad news for Plainview opponents (Gilliam said people came to basketball games just to watch Justin dunk) and breaking news for recruiters on the lookout for late bloomers.
So intriguing was Justin that college coaches were willing to overlook the fact that he bleached his hair blonde. It wasn't because he contracted Rodman-itis. It was a group decision by senior football players.
"It was another example of how close we were," Moore said. "We did it and didn't really care what people thought about it."
Moore also said this: "It was one of those decisions that, at the time, sounded great. Now all of our senior pictures are just awful."
Justin 'fessed up to a poor decision after he was arrested on a DUI complaint in Texas this season. People who know him say it was an out-of-character mistake that won't be repeated.
Gilliam and ex-Plainview football coach Corey Cole raved about the way Justin conducted himself in practices and in dealings with others, especially kids. Gilliam said it's rare to find any athlete with Justin's combination of talent and character.
OSU was sold and offered a scholarship on Thanksgiving of Justin's senior year. Other schools may have waited too late to get in the hunt. Said Cole, "It went from nobody wanted him to 'we want in on this too.'"
And that's sort of this season all over again. Justin went from just another guy on the roster to someone with a stay-or-go decision to make.
Justin's family members and friends will tell you they knew he had a breakthrough season in him.
Moore, now an OSU student, wore a No. 81 jersey to games the last two seasons and people responded by saying "who's 81?"
Moore said he almost fell out of Boone Pickens Stadium and onto the field while celebrating Justin's game-winning touchdown reception against Colorado in 2009.
"OK," Moore said to himself. "He can do this."
He's doing it better than anyone in college football this season. The pride of Plainview isn't really plain at all.
Sept. 4: Washington State W, 65-17
Sept. 11: Troy W, 41-38
Sept. 18: Tulsa W, 65-28
Sept. 30: Texas A&M W, 38-35
Oct. 8: at Louisiana-Lafayette W, 54-28
Oct. 16: at Texas Tech W, 34-17
Oct. 23: Nebraska L, 51-41
Oct. 30: at Kansas State W, 24-14
Nov. 6: Baylor W, 55-28
Nov. 13: at Texas W, 33-16
Nov. 20: at Kansas W, 48-14
Nov. 27: Oklahoma L, 47-41
Dec. 29: vs. Arizona 8:15 p.m. (ESPN-25)
ALAMO BOWL: OSU VS. ARIZONA
8:15 p.m. Dec. 29 • Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas • TV: ESPN-25 • Radio: KFAQ am1170, KRVT am1270
Original Print Headline: Pride of Plainview
Jimmie Tramel 581-8389
MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World; Photo illustration by ETHAN ERICKSON/Tulsa World
OSU's Justin Blackmon earned All-State honors in football and basketball as a high school senior. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World