Air Force linebacker TD Blackmon is aiming for a healthy senior season to finally reach his full potential | Sports
TD Blackmon’s future is planned beyond the next four months as he had hoped.
The Air Force senior linebacker will graduate from the academy in December and report back to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama shortly thereafter.
The base isn’t too far from his family in Tennessee, and former teammate Will Trawick, who is based in Maxwell, has briefed him on what to expect from the base and surrounding area.
Once a valued recruit with offers from programs as diverse as Appalachian State, Liberty, Coastal Carolina, and Army and Navy, Blackmon decided in part because of the opportunities that would arise afterwards, and it worked exactly as planned.
“My parents helped me a lot,” he recalled the decision. “I’m 17, 18 years old. I’m looking at this thing in front of me and not at the thing that will help me in 10 years. You kind of opened my eyes. I brought an officer here and loved it.
That was part of it.
“Back then, I didn’t like sending resumes, interviews and stuff like that,” Blackmon said, recalling the anxiety he faced as a high school student about looking for a job after college. “So they said, ‘Once you graduate, you don’t have to do anything. They’ll give you a job and they’ll send you to a place and you’ll be assigned there.’ I was like, ‘Sign me up.’”
To clarify, Blackmon chose Air Force because it was the easiest option. This must be a first.
But his time was not easy.
First came a year at private school. Then, as a true freshman in 2018, he saw the field in special teams and a little at linebackers. As a sophomore, he was ineligible to play. In 2020, he was one of about three dozen players to turn around and miss the fall semester and football season during the height of COVID-19. He finally got his chance last year, but injuries made him freak out. In Game 3 against Utah State, he sprained his ankle. Nerve problems in the neck made him temporarily pause.
Overall, he played in five games starting in nine, with 16 solo tackles and 17 assists. Of those 33 stops, 19 came in games against Army and Navy when he also had a forced fumble, quarterback rush, 1.5 tackles for losses and a touchdown-saving tackle.
It was a demonstration of skill coach Troy Calhoun recalls seeing Blackmon as a defender on the basketball court, and it made him one of the top 10 recruits to enlist in the Air Force since 247sports.com has been involved awarding recruitment grades began.
“I’m really looking forward to this year and trying to take care of my body this year, to be one step ahead of it,” Blackmon said. “I’m excited. I’m ready for this team. I think we can have a lot of success this year.”
A roadblock this season, even if his body holds up, could be the depth of the Air Force. Juniors Alec Mock, Bo Richter and Johnathan Youngblood have plenty of experience so the battle for time in the inside two positions will be tough. The depth could also reduce some of the wear and tear, keeping Blackmon and the other three relatively fresh throughout the season.
Blackmon and Mock will open camp on Wednesday with the top spots on the depth chart.
If the year goes as Blackmon envisions, he could face uncertainty after graduation. Maybe it’s worth exploring professional football.
For someone who has found solace in knowing what their future holds, they’re curious to see what happens when they get caught up in something completely unpredictable.
The academy helped him prepare for it. Enrolling in his family with no military background, he didn’t know exactly what the experience would entail. He ate rabbits during survival training and later tutored cadets as they prepared to go through it themselves. He completed basic training at the prep school and academy, later served a cadre for others going through basic training, and even served as a military command officer, speaking through basic cadets and helping them solve problems they encountered.
“I think I surprised myself that I could just conquer everything,” said Blackmon. “Knowing that it won’t last forever and that everything has an end date helped. Just being able to get through that shows a lot.”
Keeping the best for last
The Air Force has had no shortage of strong senior seasons from players who previously served in minor roles. It is TD Blackmon’s hope to pull off such a season in 2022. Here are some examples from the last decade.
Brandon Lewis WR, 2021
He entered the senior season with a career start before leading the team with 21 receptions for 619 yards and three touchdowns — including two for 60-plus yards in a bowl win over Louisville. He is now in training camp with the Tennessee Titans.
LB Jordan Pierce, 2014
Hinted at his potential when he got his first three starts to wrap up his junior campaign, then exploded as a senior with a team-high 117 tackles (19.5 for the loss) and a defensive turn that led to the Air Force Capping 40 points per game during 2013, he lost 10 games to 24.2 ppg in a 2014 10-win season.
QB Karson Roberts, 2015
Pushed to a starting role in Game 3 (in Michigan of all places), Roberts responded with 1,595 passing yards and 11 touchdowns and 743 rushing yards and 10 TDs, leading the team to their only Mountain West Division title.
WR Ben Waters, 2019
After a career in which he was pushed back and forth between offense and defense and had only seen the field on special teams, Waters caught 22 passes for 658 yards (29.91 yards per catch, which remains a program record) and seven touchdowns for one 11-2 team.
OL Hawk Wimmer, 2021
Had a career start in his first three seasons before putting up a first-team All-Mountain West performance as a senior. Coach Troy Calhoun called him “probably the strongest offensive lineman we’ve ever had.”