TD Blackmon was a good – bordering on good – high school basketball player.
Despite his limited height (6 feet) and inability to play over the edge (“I can’t jump,” he says), he often scored in double digits for a program in suburban Louisville, Tenn. , who reached 42-6 in his junior and senior seasons.
But why, five years later, is there any relevance to the basketball career of Blackmon, an Air Force linebacker who played last week against Navy in the first start of his career?
Because of what Troy Calhoun remembers seeing in a movie about Blackmon’s basketball career.
“Good speed, phenomenal speed,” Calhoun said. “He could keep.”
Thadeus Deion Blackmon Jr. (TD for short) was regularly tasked with stopping the other team’s top player, and he relished the role.
In soccer, he had grown up playing running back but switched to playing exclusively in defense when he started playing in high school.
Stopping opponents has become his thing, whatever the sport.
“I hate to lose,” Blackmon said. “Every time someone scores it’s a loss in my book. Basketball, football; I try to prevent the opponent from scoring at all times.
It’s not that Blackmon was a neglected recruit. The Appalachian State, Army, Navy, Liberty, and Coastal Carolina were among its dozen Division I offerings. Of all the Air Force engagements followed by 247Sports over the past 12 years, only Kade Remsberg scored higher as a rookie than Blackmon. But where other programs have seen him play somewhere other than inside linebacker because of his size. The Air Force, seeing his instinct on the football field coupled with the mentality he displayed on the basketball court, wanted him there.
“We are determined in how we recruit,” Calhoun said, noting that multisport athletes can often be more predictable because of the advancements that can be made when allowed to focus on one sport in college.
The Falcons secured an engagement from Blackmon in February 2017, who said, “I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself.”
Then the wait began.
He attended preschool during the 2017 season. He appeared in two freshman games, tackling Wyoming. He lost his sophomore eligibility in 2019 and did not play. He was among those who turned around in 2020, missing the season while parting ways with the academy for a semester.
“When we got out of the spring, I was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s got it,’” Calhoun said. “And it’s not just something that happens instantly. Big credit to the way he works.
Now a junior, Blackmon made his first start last week at Navy and clocked a record 11 tackles. Included were 1.5 tackles for the loss, a rushed quarterback and a tackle that saves the touchdown.
He started the game jamming the line of scrimmage, then followed the action to his left as Navy quarterback Xavier Arline cut in the opposite direction and found a crease that seemed to lead to the end zone. Arline has a speed that a week ago caused Calhoun to compare his acceleration to the best service academy quarterbacks of all time.
Blackmon changed direction and sprinted in pursuit. He’s quick, though, timed about 4.6 seconds into the 40-yard dash, not blazing. To its advantage, it’s a trick at the moment. In his sophomore year in high school, he blocked a field goal late in the fourth quarter to send the state championship game into overtime. Then moments later, he sealed the title with an interception on a 2-point try. As a junior he was named Mr. Football in Tennessee.
In this case, he found this extra equipment and tripped Arline from behind. The Navy settled for a placement and the Air Force defense, behind Blackmon and fellow inside linebacker Demonte Meeks (nine tackles, two sacks), put the brakes on from there by allowing just 68. Total offensive yards – the second lowest in program history for the Falcons.
From Calhoun’s point of view on the sidelines, Arline would score.
“Then here’s a guy …”
He was a guy Calhoun first saw coming a long time ago thanks to a mentality displayed on the hardwood as much as the football field.