Plano East alum Justin Blalock has a little less than one month before punching his time card in Flowery Branch, Atlanta on July 25 for the start of training camp with the Atlanta Falcons.
In the meantime, the seven-year NFL pro paid a visit to his old stomping grounds – or at least close by. The former Panther hosted his fifth annual all-position football camp Saturday at Plano Senior.
“I’m just happy that we keep getting enough interest to keep coming back,” Blalock said. “A lot of the kids seem to enjoy themselves and have a good time. They’re obviously telling their friends because the numbers are getting bigger each year.
“It means a lot that they take enough interest in it to tell a friend, keep coming back and learning things. Hopefully it’ll get them a little head start on the competition for the upcoming year.”
Approximately 170 student-athletes – ages 12-18 and grade levels six-12 – were eying just that, assembling outside the school at 8 a.m. With attendance hovering around 40 athletes when it first began in 2010, that number has ascended plenty in recent years, giving students an opportunity to fine-tune their game in an outlet beyond their usual high school tutelage.
“I knew how important it was during the offseason and summer time to keep your skills sharp,” Blalock said. “Something like that gives the kids a chance to come out and compete, see kids from other schools and also learn from guys who have done it at the college level and even some at the professional level.”
Enlisting the help of various high school coaches throughout the area, Blalock also had assistance from tenured veterans like Brett Valdez – Blalock’s college roommate during his days on the University of Texas gridiron – former Miami Dolphin Terence Mann and former Kansas City Chief Rod Jones.
Blalock and his campers had plenty of time throughout the day to devote to matters on the football field, but began the day honing in on a more crucial indicator for future success.
Emphasizing education before athletics, Blalock and Co. opened the camp with a career fair, which gave campers a chance to talk with people associated with eight different professions.
There were booths set up for sports marketing, information technology, the military (headed by Plano head boys basketball coach Dean Christian), the Medical Center of Plano, engineering, law, sports medicine and entrepreneurship.
Following the career fair, kids began the football portion of the camp by going through a series of position-specific drills as preparation for the afternoon, when the competition reached a fever pitch during a 7-on-7 tournament and lineman challenges.
“We’re going to evolve a little bit as they get older and teach them new things,” Blalock said. “When they first get here, we’re teaching them things like stances and just the rudimentary stuff. For the more experienced kids, we’re running plays and introducing concepts.”
Although Blalock’s time in Plano is rare these days, given his obligations to the Falcons, the East alum still remains in the loop on matters regarding his alma mater. That includes being apprised of the hiring of Joey McCullough – who was an assistant coach at East during Blalock’s three years on varsity – as the Panthers’ new head coach earlier this year.
“I played offensive line and [McCullough] was the defensive line coach, so we obviously worked together a lot,” Blalock said. “I’m excited for him; I love the energy and passion he brings, and I think he’ll do great.”
Blalock and his staff exuded that same passion Saturday during the camp, beginning as early as 8 a.m. when Blalock socialized with campers and parents during check-in to 4:30 p.m. when the camp’s fifth installment concluded.
Even if it meant a former Panther spending an entire day in Wildcat territory.
“It is a little rough over here,” Blalock joked. “It brings back some painful memories.”