COLLEGE FOOTBALL NEWS

Tackling machine Blanding looks to elevate Virginia

Sports Xchange

July 14, 2017 at 3:28 pm.

Jul 14, 2017; Charlotte, NC, USA; Virginia Cavaliers safety Quin Blanding speaks to the media during the ACC Kickoff at the Westin Charlotte. Photo Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Jul 14, 2017; Charlotte, NC, USA; Virginia Cavaliers safety Quin Blanding speaks to the media during the ACC Kickoff at the Westin Charlotte. Photo Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

No current college football player has made more tackles than Virginia safety Quin Blanding. But sensing more to prove, he came back for his senior season.

He said Friday at the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte, N.C., that he had been “50-50″ in the offseason about leaving early for the NFL draft.

“I just had unfinished business to do here as a team and as an individual,” Blanding said. “I’m just getting ready for that.”

Blanding, a two-time first-team All-ACC player, has 358 career tackles — 9.94 per game. Both are the top returning marks in the country. NFLDraftscout.com rates him as a potential second-rounder — the 55th-best prospect overall and the No. 2 free safety behind Texas A&M senior Armani Watts (No. 44).

Despite his numbers and accolades, if Blanding hasn’t yet made much of a national name it is because Virginia has gone 11-25 in the past three seasons, including a 2-10 mark in coach Bronco Mendenhall’s debut season with the Cavaliers in 2016.

“The end result wasn’t what we wanted,” Blanding said of last season, “but it went really well because people bought in. That’s the bottom line. If you don’t buy in, you’re gone. … Now, everyone bought in and everyone sees the big picture.”

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Blanding has made more than 100 tackles in each of his three seasons, also picking off six passes. He has 5.5 tackles for loss.

“I’m the leader of the defense,” he said.

“I make the calls, and I see everything before anyone sees anything anyway, so I’ve got to know what the offense is going to give me. I’ve got to be in their huddle before they even come out of the huddle. So that’s been my job since my second year and that’s job I’m going to keep continuing. I’m just going to keep growing at it.”

Despite Virginia’s current low status in the ACC, Blanding leads a defense that has two other top 100 prospects, according to NFLDraftScout.com. Junior Juan Thornhill, who is moving from cornerback to strong safety this season, is No. 80. Senior inside linebacker Micah Kiser is No. 81. Blanding and Kiser earned second-team preseason All-America honors from Lindy’s College Football Annuals.

Now, the Cavaliers just need some more victories.

“A lot of people doubted us, a lot of people doubted me,” Blanding said. “It’s time to prove people wrong and show the world what we’re doing and, as an individual, why I’m the best in the league as a safety.”