CLEMSON — When a player visits his hometown to play football, the stories tend to be nostalgic.
What was your favorite memory at “insert stadium here?” Who was your favorite player?
How many family and friends will be at the game?
Travis Blanks is a little different.
Yes, Clemson’s freshman linebacker is from Tallahassee, Fla. Yes, the No.10 Tigers are facing off with No.4 Florida State there Saturday night. And yes, Blanks will be on the field.
In his mind, that’s where the nostalgia ends.
“In my mind I won’t be at home,” Blanks said. “I’ll be in a football game doing what I came here to do. I go into it with a demeanor and a focus that is not like everyone else’s. I’m not going home. I’m going to play Florida State.”
That particular focus is exactly why Blanks has grabbed a significant role as a true freshman this fall. He has started the last two games while battling junior Quandon Christian for the starting “Sam” linebacker role, and his 14 tackles rank fifth on Clemson’s defense.
Without prompting last week, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables remarked of Blanks, “God, that guy’s good.”
“He’s not afraid,” Venables said. “So many times guys play at a young age and are afraid to make mistakes. He’s sure of himself, he’s confident in himself and what we’re asking him to do. He’s always asking the right questions, whether it’s in the meetings, before the game, in practice or in the game itself. He immediately understands when he messes something up. You can coach him hard. He just plays at a very fast level.”
Coaches have repeatedly praised Blanks’ precocious feel for the game, with a maturity and work ethic beyond his years.
Yet, Blanks says mental maturity has been his biggest hurdle.
“It’s the studying that has to be done, the time that has to be invested to play at a high level,” he said. “I’ve matured a lot and still have a lot of maturing to do.”
Admittedly, Blanks is his own worst critic. When asked what he’d done well through three games, he was more focused on a glass half-empty.
“I don’t really know,” he said. “… I’m a person that’s so driven on what I need to fix. I’m not really sure what I’ve done well. I’m sure I have done some things well, but I’m focused on what I need to fix to make things better.”
A student of the game, Blanks is focusing on film study to improve.
“Just the overall mental capacity,” he said. “Knowing the tendencies, certain situations, being more aware. Things that come with experience.”
Blanks grew up a Florida State fan – his first college football game was a 14-13 FSU win over Georgia Tech in 2003. But as he grew older and garnered more attention on the football field, his Seminole affection “faded away,” he said.
Blanks said “the Lord led me in different directions, and Clemson just happened to be the perfect fit for me.”
“The program, what we do here, fits me,” he said. “The environment fits me. The people surrounding fits my personality, who I am as a person outside of football.”
He has been a solid fit on the field, as well. Although Blanks played safety in high school, the “Sam” position, which splits coverage and run responsibilities, is a natural step for him.
“I came here and, everything just fell into place. I haven’t had much problems,” he said. “Everything’s really going well for me. I’ve been granted the opportunity to help a few areas, so it’s big.”
He’ll take that same level-headed approach into Doak Campbell Stadium Saturday night.
“I’m just going into it with a focus,” he said. “Just focused on my job, focused on what I have to do, not trying to do too much, not trying to say I have to make plays. I’m just trying to do my job. If my job results in making plays, so be it.”
After all, that’s what this trip is all about. It isn’t a homecoming. It’s business.
“It’ s not a vacation or let’s have fun time in front of my friends,” Blanks said. “This is a strictly business approach, and that’s the focus I’m taking to it.”