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May 5, 2011

Blackmon making a name for himself

Small towns in Oklahoma aren't shy about showing adulation for local heroes.

Road signs boast that Henryetta (population 6,096) is the hometown of three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Troy Aikman. The water tower in Tuttle (pop. 4,294) proclaims: "Home of Jason White 2003 Heisman Trophy Winner." A boulevard in Miami (pop. 12,910) bears the name of 1969 Heisman recipient Steve Owens.

There are no similar boasts in Ardmore (pop. 24,283) - not yet, anyway.

So far, the list of the town's celebrities doesn't necessarily demand special recognition. Oh, it can be proud of actress Rue McClanahan ("Golden Girls"), Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham and NFL coaches Rex and Rob Ryan. And there was a couple that appeared on "The Biggest Loser."

But if Oklahoma State junior wide receiver Justin Blackmon duplicates his Biletnikoff Award-winning performance from 2010 - and perhaps wins college football's most prestigious award - it may be only a matter of time before his name appears on the water tower.

After all, just last week Ardmore celebrated "Justin Blackmon Day." There is also a proposal to name a street after him. Not bad for a 21-year-old in college.

Leading the nation in receiving yards and touchdowns, winning the Biletnikoff Award as the country's premier collegiate receiver and emerging as a serious Heisman candidate can change a life rather quickly.

"I think it's changed a lot just in as far as going out to eat, somebody will come up and talk to you and want to take a picture," Blackmon said from Stillwater last week. "It's been a complete 180. Basically, I've gone from somebody nobody knew to somebody everybody knows."

Blackmon's life could have had an even more dramatic change. He could have been a first-round selection in last week's NFL draft and thus become instantly wealthy. Yet, instead of preparing for his first NFL season and earning a millionaire's salary, he stayed at Oklahoma State.

"The team comes first," he said. "I really couldn't care less if I had as big a season or a bigger season as long as we're winning. I'll do what I can to help the team. I don't think about [the Heisman]. If it happens, it happens. I'm just going to go out and play."

Maybe he came back because he wanted to take a shot at winning the Heisman. Maybe he figured he could be a top-five pick in 2012 and thus get an even more lucrative pro contract. But Blackmon said he just wants to help Oklahoma State win its first Big 12 championship, which might seem unlikely because archrival Oklahoma already is being touted as the preseason No. 1 team in the country.

Furthermore, offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen left for West Virginia, where he will become coach in 2012.

Oklahoma State projects as a top-10 team, too. Aside from Blackmon, the Cowboys return nine other offensive starters, including quarterback Brandon Weeden, and the offensive system remains the same. A half-dozen defensive regulars also are back.

Last season, Oklahoma edged the Cowboys by six points (47-41) and the "Bedlam Game" against the Sooners again will be played in Stillwater. A championship isn't out of the question.

"We've got a lot of players that have a chance to step up," Blackmon said. "They were looking good throughout the spring. We won't miss a beat."

Those who know Blackmon best said winning championships indeed is his sole motivation.

"He's a team person. He always thinks team first," said Warren Blackmon, Justin's older brother by 4 years. "He'd give up 100 yards and a touchdown for a win. That's way more important to him. He just wants to go out there and compete."

Just call it 'The Year of the Receiver'
Even with the early departure to the pros of Jonathan Baldwin, A.J. Green and Julio Jones, there will be a star-studded group of wide receivers on college campuses this fall. Here's an alphabetical look at the six best.
Justin Blackmon, Okla. State1111,78216.120148.5
Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma1311,62212.414115.9
Juron Criner, Arizona831,24414.91195.7
Michael Floyd, Notre Dame791,02512.912 78.8
Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M721,06614.81282.0
Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina881,51717.29108.4
Championships, millions of dollars and, yes, even the Heisman will be in reach if Blackmon plays like he did a year ago, when he emerged from relative obscurity to continue a tradition of dominant Cowboys receivers that has included Rashaun Woods, Adarius Bowman and Dez Bryant.

Blackmon had 20 catches as a redshirt freshman in 2009, then broke out in a big way in 2010. He finished with 111 catches for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns - and that was despite missing a game against Kansas State. He had at least one touchdown and more than 100 receiving yards in every game in which he played. He also had at least one play cover 40 yards in 11 games.

Warren, who works for Shell Oil in Houston, claims he wasn't surprised by his brother's season in '10. He said that even when he was a youngster, all Justin ever needed was a chance to play, whether it was football, basketball or baseball.

"When he was in middle school and I was in high school, my mom forced me to take him wherever I'd go," Warren said. "We'd go to the community gym to play basketball. At first, nobody would pick him up. But after one or two times, he was the first player picked. He was always a competitor.

"Everybody always told him how good he was and how good he would be."

They were right. And just like when he was a youngster hanging out with his older brother, Blackmon took advantage when he got a chance to play.

Early in 2010, Bryant declared for the NFL draft; he was taken in the first round by Dallas. That left Oklahoma State in need of a go-to receiver. Blackmon diligently prepared.

"I caught a lot of balls and watched a lot of film," he said. "I would watch a lot of the guys from the Houston offense [where Holgorsen had been the previous season] and the different routes the receivers were running."

Now, it's a sure bet that Big 12 defensive coordinators, cornerbacks, safeties and nickel backs will be diligently watching game footage of Blackmon in hopes of finding a way to contain him.

But maybe Blackmon cannot be contained. By the end of last season, every Oklahoma State opponent was aware of the threat he posed, yet Blackmon caught more passes in November than he did in September even though there was much better competition later in the season.

This season, the Cowboys play Louisiana-Lafayette, Arizona, Tulsa and Texas A&M in September. Blackmon faced each of those teams last season and averaged 9.5 catches, 152 yards and two touchdowns in those four games.

If he has similar results, the Cowboys very well could come out of the first month of the season unbeaten and highly ranked - and Blackmon could be among the top Heisman contenders.

"With the Heisman deal, you are talking about the best player in the country," Holgorsen said in November. "That is an award that is obviously pretty prestigious. All I can say is this: Every time that he is on the field, he is the best player."

Does that mean he's good enough to help Oklahoma State win a championship? Maybe.

Good enough to win the Heisman? Perhaps.

Good enough to get his name on a water tower? Definitely.

Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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