Jan. 27, 2013
By BJ PICKARD
When healthy, Arizona Rattlers defensive back Will Blackmon is as versatile and dynamic an athlete as they come.
In college, he lined up at defensive back and receiver and finished his career at Boston College with 2,700 kickoff return yards, just 222 yards shy of the NCAA’s all-time record.
In the NFL, he scored his first two touchdowns in the same game, returning a punt 57 yards and recovering a fumble on a punt return against the Oakland Raiders on December 9, 2007. He became the first Green Bay Packers player in 38 years to score two special teams touchdowns in the same game.
In fact, in the 93-year history of the franchise, no Packers player has returned more punts for touchdowns while wearing green and gold than Blackmon, who, along with Super Bowl XXXI MVP Desmond Howard, has three to his name.
When healthy, Blackmon is a very special player.
“That’s been the knock against me,” Blackmon admitted. “I’ve dealt with tons of injuries.”
‘Tons’ would be an appropriate word to describe the litany of unfortunate setbacks that have marred Blackmon’s professional career. For as good as the Rattlers’ rookie was in the NFL, a seemingly annual string of serious injuries forced Blackmon to spend as much time in the training room as on the field.
“He’s obviously going to have to pass a physical, but he’s a guy with a great attitude,” Arizona Rattlers head coach Kevin Guy said. “He’s excited about being here and contributing to the team. He’s probably got one of the best attitudes of a player who’s been in his situation.”
Just months after being drafted in the fourth round by the Packers in 2006, Blackmon broke his foot on one of the final plays of May camp. That setback, coupled with a rib injury suffered in Week 10, limited him to just four games as a rookie.
Blackmon rehabbed and worked his way back onto the field.
The next season, Blackmon was poised to star as the team’s kickoff and punt returner, but suffered a broken thumb in the preseason and began the year in a cast. Then, barely a month into the regular season, Blackmon broke his foot – the same foot – a second time.
Again, Blackmon rehabbed and worked his way back onto the field.
He scored a touchdown on a 76-yard punt return against the Minnesota Vikings to begin the 2008 season and by 2009, the former high school All-American appeared to be coming into his own.
That’s when he tore his ACL.
He rehabbed in an attempt to work his way back onto the field, but it just wasn’t in the cards. The Packers made the tough decision to release Blackmon during 2010 roster cutdowns.
Five months later, they were Super Bowl champions.
“It was like a movie,” Blackmon said. “I knew during preseason that this was going to be the year.”
Blackmon signed the New York Giants midway through the 2010 season, but again quickly ended up on Injured Reserve. He was out of football through much of 2011 until the Giants, depleted by injuries in the secondary, called again late in the year. Blackmon wound up with his Super Bowl ring after all, as the Giants went on another historic run, eventually defeating the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
“I felt like the following year was kind of owed to me when I went to New York,” Blackmon laughed. “I was very spoiled that my first destination was Green Bay. It was awesome to be there for five years. I just enjoyed the whole experience and I was with a top organization on and off the field. I’ve been blessed to go from one top organization to another.”
And now, Blackmon joins one more. After stints with each of the last two Super Bowl-winning squads, Blackmon joins an Arizona Rattlers team looking to repeat as ArenaBowl champions in 2013.
“It just came down to that fact that I want to play football,” Blackmon said of his decision to come to the AFL. “I want to prove to everybody that I’m 100 percent and, believe it or not, better than I was before I had my knee surgery.”
If that’s the case, the Rattlers will have pulled off quite the coup. The Arizona secondary already includes All-Arena defensive backs Arkeith Brown and Jeremy Kellem. The addition of a healthy Blackmon to the mix would certainly be a headache for opposing quarterbacks; however, Blackmon may be the only player in college football history to be able to call himself an All-Big East defensive back and All-ACC receiver, so he doesn’t envision being limited to just one side of the ball.
“I see myself playing anywhere – offense, defense, special teams,” Blackmon said. “I’m an all-around athlete and I just want to play football. The more I can do, the more valuable I’ll be.”
Now at full strength and hungry to prove his playing days are far from over, Blackmon’s value will be on full display in the Valley.
“Our plan here in Arizona is to compete for a championship every year and we try to find to find the best players that we can,” Guy said. “He’s a guy that’s in great shape and he’s got a great attitude. Usually those guys are pretty successful.”
While achievement at the NFL level is no surefire barometer for success in the AFL, Blackmon knows what it takes to be a champion. If he can stay healthy, Blackmon’s once snake bitten career will find rebirth, ironically, in the “Snake Pit”. And if that happens, both he and the Rattlers could be calling themselves “champions” once more.