When Middle Tennessee State safety Reed Blankenship decided to return to school for a fifth year, many questioned if he made the right decision.
After all, Blankenship was projected to be a mid-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, with some draft experts projecting him as high as the fourth round. But five games into the season, Blankenship appears to have made the correct move coming back for one more year.
"I came back because I knew I wasn't ready for the next level," Blankenship said in mid-August. "Last year, coming off the injury and not being able to rehab, it really affected the way I played, mentally and physically."
The 6-foot-1 safety leads the Blue Raiders in tackles (46), forced fumbles (two) and fumble recoveries (two) while ranking second on the team in pass breakups (three) and third in tackles for loss (three).
Blankenship began the season eighth all-time in total tackles but set the MTSU school record, which stood for 34 years, on Sept. 24 against Charlotte. He’s at 355 career tackles and counting, ranking him fourth nationally among all active players. He is also five shy of moving into MTSU’s top five all-time in career interceptions as well.
The fifth-year senior is currently tied for 16th in the NCAA in tackles and ranks second among safeties in total tackles behind only Boise State’s JL Skinner.
Blankenship’s accomplishments are getting recognition from those outside of Murfreesboro. He racked up a list of preseason accomplishments that included being named to the Reese’s Senior Bowl watch list, the Bednarik Award watch list and the C-USA Preseason watch list. He is a nominee for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.
And just this week, Blankenship was named Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week after recording seven tackles, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and a pass breakup in the Blue Raiders’ 34-28 upset of Marshall last weekend.
Then on Wednesday, Blankenship was chosen as a nominee for the 2021 senior CLASS award, which honors an NCAA Division I FBS senior or graduate student “with notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.”
The award was created to recognize students who use their platform in athletics to make a positive impact as leaders in their communities. Blankenship is one of 30 candidates and the only representative from C-USA. The winner will be announced in December.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_