J.T. Blyden is earning the respect and trust of his teammates
Massachusetts football starting linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox shakes his head in amazement when asked about freshman running back J.T. Blyden.
“J.T.’s really, really good,” Santos-Knox said. “He’s going to be a great player for the future of UMass. I can’t really consider him a younger guy because we’re going to need him this year. He’s really, really talented and we’re going to use him a lot for sure.”
UMass fans got a glimpse of Blyden on Saturday against Boston College, as he ran for 43 yards on nine carries, including a 14-yard run off-tackle, and caught one pass for seven yards. Blyden spelled starting running back Jamal Wilson midway through the second quarter and assumed the majority of the workload.
Santos-Knox and the rest of the Minutemen caught their first glimpse of Blyden in early August when he arrived on campus as a true freshman, running with the scout team on the first day of practice. He entered camp with relatively minimal fanfare — he’s been committed to UMass since his junior year of high school — but picked up the playbook quickly, working his way into earning more and more reps as he adjusted to the speed of the game throughout practice.
“Practice already had me up to speed I believe,” Blyden said. “My first day of practice, I was like amazed by the speed. When we have intra-squad scrimmages and everything, that was really beneficial to getting used to the speed of the game.”
Blyden’s name consistently popped up when Minutemen coach Mark Whipple talked about players who surprised him in camp. An afterthought in a deep running back competition, Blyden quietly worked his way up the depth chart and earned playing time with the starters by the end of camp.
According to quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, Blyden’s displayed a penchant for making plays not typically seen out of freshman.
“He came in the first day and really did things the right way,” Frohnapfel said. “He did what he was supposed to do, wasn’t really saying much. You see him with the way he plays, he’s always where he’s supposed to be.”
Whether it be on run plays or pass protection, Blyden transitioned well. That earned the trust of his starting quarterback and ultimately more playing time.
“As a quarterback you know, especially in protections, that I don’t have to worry about where this kid is supposed to be or tell him where to go because he knows already,” Frohnapfel said.
That was evident on Saturday, when the team left Blyden in for multiple different situations. Despite UMass trailing for most of the second half, which limited his ability to earn carries, Blyden’s performance was strong enough to warrant even more consideration of playing time moving forward.
For him, he’s as excited as can be.
“I’m just really excited,” he said. “Even after a loss I’m just excited. “We’re so close in so many areas to big plays. Myself, the whole team, I know we’re going to make a lot of noise this year so (I’m) really hyped for this year.”
Mark Chiarelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli