SALT LAKE CITY — Nothing about football has ever been guaranteed for Utah safety Marquise Blair.
Most of his life in the sport, in fact, has been filled with question marks, obstacles or unforeseen circumstances.
There have been injuries, like a meniscus tear incurred while in high school at Wooster (Ohio) High. And there have been academic struggles, too.
Blair was ruled academically ineligible to attend his chosen university, Syracuse, out of high school. He subsequently attended — and thrived — at Dodge City Community College in Kansas, where in one season he racked up an absurd 99 total tackles (66 solo, 33 assisted), as well as three sacks.
There have even been times where he didn’t know if football was the sport he wanted to play.
As far as Blair is concerned, all of those question marks or obstacles were just stuff to fight through.
“Stuff happens and you have to get through it,” Blair said. “That is how I feel about everything. You just have to come back strong.”
That belief was put to the test last season, and throughout this most recent offseason, thanks to yet more stuff. As nearly every Ute fan knows, Blair suffered a season-ending knee injury last year in the midst of the Utes' 48-17 runaway victory over UCLA.
Moments into the second quarter of that contest, Blair collapsed on the turf, his knee giving way beneath him. No one had hit or fallen on him. It simply came out of nowhere.
“I was hoping it wouldn’t be that serious, but I couldn't get up,” Blair said. “I knew something was up.”
The injury ended what had been an extremely productive inaugural campaign. Blair’s hard-hitting ways had led to 48 tackles, the third-highest total on the team. He also had three tackles for a loss, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
“I feel horrible for Marquise,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told the Deseret News following the injury. “He was really coming along and obviously became a starter for us.”
The injury impacted Blair’s teammates as well.
“That is my brother, so when he went down I went down,” Utah safety and Blair’s injury replacement on the field Corrion Ballard said.
Blair was affected in ways he didn’t expect.
“It was different, because I’m here,” said Blair. “Back in high school, it wasn’t a big deal to recover from it, but here (at the U.) I was losing something.”
Utah defensive coordinator and safeties coach Morgan Scalley noticed that right away.
“He is a guy that just wants to play so bad,” said Scalley. “He gets frustrated. He’s a guy who, if left on his own, that probably isn’t a good situation.”
As such, Blair was around the team in perpetuity following his injury, whether in the film room, on the practice field or in meetings.
“He was around us the entire time, coming to meetings,” Scalley said. “He couldn’t afford to miss anything. It was his first year in the program. He was still learning our defense, going through that process. Keeping him around the kids, keeping him learning football was good for him.”
When it came time to rehab, Blair took the challenge head-on.
“He is very competitive, just has a no-excuses mentality. He is not a guy that milks things,” said Scalley. “As quickly as he could get back he wanted to get back.”
“Me and the trainers were on the same page throughout,” Blair said. “They would tell me things to do and I would do them. I just wanted to come back stronger. I had to come back stronger.”
Part of coming back stronger meant learning the game better, an outcome aided all the time in meetings and film study.
“No question,” Scalley said. “That time in the meeting room with us, grinding through things, watching film, that has been to his benefit. He’s a lot smarter football player, more mature, a team player. His understanding is improved.”
“I learned to help myself out,” said Blair. “Learned different disguises I can do to trick the quarterback. I noticed little things that you don’t see if you are on the field.”
Thanks to his taking “the rehab process really seriously,” per Scalley, Blair was back to 100 percent well ahead of schedule.
“Since the middle of May I have been going full go,” Blair said.
As such, with fall camp more than a week underway, Blair is completely healthy and as good as he’s ever been.5 comments on this story
“He’s back and explosive right now,” Scalley said. “I would have liked to keep him on the field, but there is definitely a humbling process that goes with getting injured. For some, that can help with the maturing process, understanding that you never know when it could be the last step. It can help guys be grateful and not take things for granted.”
Blair takes nothing for granted at this point.
“I just want to stay healthy,” he said. “Get everyone out there healthy and get a good season going.”
Of course that's not all he wants.
“I want us to win the Pac-12 South and then keep going. Win everything,” said Blair. “I want to lead the team in tackles, that is the goal I have set for myself.”
When asked whether his teammate and fellow safeties' goals were realistic, Ballard was quick to note, “Yeah. We have Marquise back.”