TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Robert Craft still remembers his first days around defensive back Travis Blanks after he was hired at Tallahassee (Fla.) North Florida Christian back in February of 2010.
"You knew right away that he was a special player," Craft said.
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After spending a majority of the past two years around Blanks, Craft explains why he is in the position of being one of the nation's top recruits who is bound for Clemson after he finishes playing in the U.S. Army All-American Game in early January.
"What separates him is his work ethic," Craft said. "He has been willing to do whatever we ask him to do. Coming in the beginning of his junior year he accepted the new coaching staff, myself and all of our new coaches, and knowing that, trusting that we had a path for not only him but the entire team. I think again that goes back to his personality, his character, and who he is. He sets the standard with his work ethic and I think that carries over and allows him to have a day like today.
"It is just a testament to his work and he is a guy that with any of these accolades, he tries to deflect the praise to his teammates and others," Craft added.
Blanks invitation to the game was extended soon after Craft's arrival at the school. He still remembers when they got word of his invite.
"He didn't really know what to say," Blanks said. "He and I, like most people, have watched the game for so many years and we know how prestigious it is. It is everybody that is anybody in the country on one field. Less than 100 people chosen for it. It is a big honor and he was chosen early on, even as a junior, even before he took off in the whole recruiting scene."
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Blanks was just excited to have been given such an opportunity.
"When I found out about it I was just going into my junior year, so I was kind of ecstatic because it was so unexpected," Blanks said. "I was so excited about it."
On Tuesday morning, that invitation became official when Blanks, in front of a packed gymnasium, was awarded his U.S. Army All-American Bowl jersey and honored in front of his teachers and peers. One part of the ceremony struck a chord with the four-star cornerback.
"Just to be recognized with guys like Tim Tebow and Adrian Peterson," Blanks said. "My name might never be mentioned in the same sentence as Adrian Peterson again, that is just incredible for me to be considered in the same company with those guys. That is incredible."
The Big Bend prospect is the first player ever from North Florida Christian to play in the game.
"It is a big deal for our whole school," Craft said. "We have never had an U.S. Army All-American, so we are excited. He wants to give a lot of credit to our school and then also our football program too. We are proud that he is going to represent North Florida Christian."
With the ceremony now out of the way, Blanks is turning his attention to not only the game but the week of practices in San Antonio, Texas. He is looking forward to once again going to a talent-rich event and seeing how he measures up with those considered as some of the nation's top-tier talent.
"It is a humbling experience, but it is also an opportunity to get around guys that will get you better," Blanks said. "It puts things in perspective, just to let you know that there are other people working hard just like you. So that keeps the fire burning underneath you. That is why I love going to stuff like this, that is why I went to so many events and combines, because that is what keeps the fire burning under me. Just seeing other top guys. That keeps me working.
"I am just looking forward to going there and competing against some great guys," Blanks added. "The competition will be real nice. I am so ready for it, I am just ready to lay that first hit, to go out there and just run around a little bit and see some of those top guys that are ranked ahead of me and compete against them."
In fact, Blanks has already circled a couple of names on the roster that he is looking forward to lining up across from.
"I am looking forward to going up against (Stefon) Diggs and also the top receiver in the country (Dorial Green-Beckham), so I am looking forward to that really," Blanks said.
Blanks and the East team take on the West in the 12th annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. The game will be nationally televised on NBC.