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Blanton's Long Trail Back Ends : Football: Former Mater Dei quarterback finally gets a chance to call the shots for San Diego State.

October 15, 1994|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Billy Blanton is in command again. It can be a dangerous thing for opponents.

Blanton, a sophomore at San Diego State, has pushed and prodded a team before. He took Mater Dei to the Southern Section Division I title in 1991, setting Orange County records for yards passing and touchdown passes in the process.

He strutted and swaggered, confident that no one could stop him. No one could. Ah, but that was eons ago. Ancient history.

Today, Blanton will dust off the skills that made him so successful at Mater Dei and direct the Aztec offense against New Mexico. He is in command again.

"It's been three years, it seems like a lot more," Blanton said. "It's does feel different. But I certainly feel like the quarterback going into this game. I'm the leader. I'll be in charge. I have no doubts, none at all."

That could be whistling in the graveyard. Then again, he could be dead right.

Blanton is ready to deliver but is still an unknown parcel at this level.

"I'm as comfortable as a coach can be with a quarterback who's making his first start," Coach Ted Tollner said. "Sure I'm concerned, but that's not because it's Billy Blanton. I would be with any guy making his first start. He's an unknown."

This was not the position the Aztecs (2-4) wanted or expected to be in, not at this position. They had senior Tim Gutierrez, who was seasoned and talented; he had thrown for 3,033 yards and 24 touchdowns as a junior.

But he also had a rather lengthy medical log. Three years, three surgeries--back, shoulder and knee. No. 4 came after last week.

Blanton was his clipboard-toting self at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. Then, Gutierrez was flattened by a Utah defender and suffered a broken collarbone. Blanton saw he wasn't getting up.

"My mind started working," Blanton said. "I had to warm up, I had to get loose. I was going in."

First play: A play-action fake. The safety bit. An open receiver.

Said Blanton: "I overthrew him by five yards. I guess I got a little anxious."

The rest of the day wasn't much better. Blanton completed 14 of 22 passes for 121 yards. But one of his passes was intercepted and he fumbled once.

The score was tied, 7-7, when Blanton entered the game. Utah, ranked 21st in the nation, cruised to a 38-22 victory.

Still, there were some good moments for Blanton. He drove the Aztecs to a late touchdown. He was nearly devoured by a blitz on the conversion attempt but wiggled free and hit Will Blackwell in the end zone for two points.

It was a little victory in a big loss.

"It was a tough day," Blanton said. "It took me awhile to get into the flow. I was rusty, definitely rusty."

He has had a week to scrape and polish.

With Gutierrez out for the season, Blanton has crammed all week because the Aztecs' no-huddle offense is not exactly the type of scheme that runs smoothly with rotating quarterbacks.

"He doesn't just hand off," Tollner said. "He has to be in control. It's an upbeat offense and the emphasis is on the quarterback."

That's a good place to put it when playing New Mexico. Blanton catches a break; the Lobos (1-5) don't exactly excite people.

Seems like a perfect opponent for a quarterback who had thrown only nine passes entering this season.

"I feel really good this week," Blanton said. "I've watched films and had more time with the offense. I don't kid myself. It's not going to be easy. But I'm getting a chance to do more than just hand off and run out the clock."

Blanton was accustomed to more responsibility, at least in high school.

As Blanton went, so went Mater Dei in 1991. He threw for 3,485 yards and 36 touchdowns. He led the Monarchs to a 35-14 victory over Rialto Eisenhower in the title game. He won the Glenn Davis Award as Southern California's top high school player.

"He was a gambler," Mater Dei Coach Bruce Rollinson said. "The bigger the game, the bigger he played."

In playoff game against Los Angeles Loyola, Blanton scrambled 19 yards, going face first into two linebackers. He suffered a broken nose, missed one play, then returned to throw a touchdown pass.

But no matter how big he played, he didn't stand any taller. Blanton was listed as 6 feet 2, but was actually just a shade under 6 feet.

College coaches would see him play and all but sigh. Blanton was great but too short.

"I didn't know what they were thinking," Blanton said. "I knew I was big enough."

San Diego State Coach Al Luginbill was ready to believe. It did help that former Trabuco Hills quarterback David Lowery, who was also around the 6-foot mark, was the Aztecs starter.

Blanton had broken Lowery's single-season passing record. Lowery had taken the Aztecs to the Freedom Bowl. Luginbill did the math.

"He asked me one thing, 'Can Blanton throw the comeback route from the hash to the wide side of the field,' " Rollinson said. "I got out some game films and he said, 'We're going to offer him a scholarship.' "

Blanton accepted and redshirted. He came back last season, but was shoved off to the side.

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