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A Silver Lining to Blount’s Infamous Punch

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By Chris Mahr

Has it really been four years and change since LeGarrette Blount, then a running back at Oregon, sealed his place in YouTube infamy?

In an instant, Blount went from being a preseason candidate for the Walter Camp and Doak Walker Awards - not to mention one of the stars of a Ducks team with national championship aspirations - to Public Enemy No. 1. That’s all the time it took for Blount to connect with a blindside punch to the jaw of Boise State DE Byron Hout after Hout taunted Blount following the Broncos’ 19-8 victory in September 2009.

Hout’s goading of Blount notwithstanding, there was no defending how Blount responded. (Hout’s purported taunt was, “How’s that for an a**-whoopin’?”, which would’ve been a direct response to Blount’s pregame talk of how the Ducks “owed [Boise State] an a**-whoopin” as payback for a hard-fought loss the year before.) Blount’s college career was ruined and his NFL prospects greatly diminished by dreaded “character issues.”

In the days and weeks after that infamous punch, if you had predicted that LeGarrette Blount would one day be an X-factor in an NFL conference title game, people would have thought you were crazy. Yet that’s exactly who Blount is at the present moment, the battering ram running back for a suddenly fearsome New England Patriots rushing attack.

Curious about how and why that’s happened? Take a look at the fallout from that Thursday night in Boise 52 months ago.

When Blount arrived at Oregon prior to the 2008 season, he already had a chip on his shoulder. Both Rivals and Scout.com graded him as a mere two-star prospect coming out of high school in Florida. He couldn’t even walk on at the college of his choice, Auburn, because he didn’t qualify academically.

After two strong years at East Mississippi Community College, Blount rumbled for 1,002 yards and 17 TDs during that first season in Eugene. But it didn’t come easy, as he clashed with head coach Mike Bellotti several times during the year. In fact, one of Bellotti’s last moves as HC before stepping down in March 2009 was to indefinitely suspend Blount for a “failure to fulfill team obligations.”

Blount was reinstated by Bellotti’s successor, Chip Kelly, a month later. But as evidenced by what transpired after the Boise State game, he wasn’t a completely changed young man. In a strange way, he needed to know what it was like if football was taken away from him to truly shape up. He needed a come-to-Jesus moment - which is exactly what “The Punch” provided.

Two days after the incident, Blount - having been suspended for the remainder of the 2009 season by Kelly - apologized over the phone both to Hout and Boise State head coach Chris Petersen. Roughly a month after that, he apologized to the Oregon community via a letter in the school’s newspaper, the Daily Emerald.

All of which contributed to Kelly’s decision to reinstate Blount in mid-November 2009. But by then, LaMichael James had taken the Ducks’ starting RB job and run away with it, rendering Blount a backup for the rest of the season. As expected, Blount went undrafted the following spring.

Put yourself in Blount’s shoes for a moment. You still carry that aforementioned chip on your shoulder, due to both how you got to Oregon and how unfairly fleeting your success was. The big difference from before, however, is that you’ve been humbled. You learn to use that chip on your shoulder to your advantage while simultaneously not allowing it to be detrimental to your reputation.

It’s what allowed Blount to rush for over 1,000 yards in his 2010 rookie season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, just the second undrafted rookie running back in NFL history to do so. It’s what kept Blount from self-destructing after injuries (in 2011) and the emergence of Doug Martin (in 2012) knocked him from the Bucs’ No. 1 RB spot. It’s what kept him hungry and prepared if/when the Patriots needed him to step up, however unlikely that seemed at the start of this season.

“The Punch” remains an inexcusable moment from Blount’s life. But as it turns out, the fall-out from it - and how Blount dealt with it - was exactly what his life and career needed.

Chris Mahr is the managing editor of Lost Lettermen. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter at @CMahrtian.

 
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