By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - When quarterback Andrew Luck turned down the chance to be the likely No. 1 selection in this month's NFL Draft to remain at Stanford, Coty Blanchard's initial thought was similar to many other people.
"I thought he was crazy," Blanchard said.
In retrospect, Blanchard understands Luck's decision. On a smaller scale, he made a similar decision last year.
After being selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the Major League Baseball amateur draft, Blanchard got the $500,000 contract offer that he and his father, Fran, who represented him, pushed for from the Orioles.
And then Coty turned it down to attend Jacksonville State on a baseball scholarship and become a two-sport athlete in football as well.
His college career got off to an incredible start last September when he completed a 30-yard touchdown pass on fourth down and an ensuing two-point conversion to give the Gamecocks a stunning, double-overtime win at Mississippi.
He hasn't looked back since - in both his decision to attend JSU and his play as a freshman.
"I definitely love both sports or I wouldn't be doing it in college," Blanchard said. "Definitely, I think my future will be in baseball, but it's just hard to quit playing football right now because I do love it and it's just a different atmosphere out there."
A year ago, University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker was considered the top pick in the NFL Draft, but stayed in college for his senior season. He remained healthy, but his value decreased because of a subpar season.
Blanchard knows these factors, and many more both pro and con, but they are not something he is dwelling on at this point. He's only moving forward.
"It was a really tough decision," he said. "I really wanted to go to college to get a degree before I went out in the real world.
"(Luck), he obviously knows what he's doing. He's been there, he's a grown man, he can speak for himself. Obviously, he didn't think he was ready, he wanted to work on some more things that I thought he was already polished (with). He knows himself better than anyone else does. He knows exactly what he had to do.
"Like I said about Luck, I really don't think that I was ready to be managing that much money and to be living by myself and doing all that stuff. I needed to come to college and just figure some things out and work on some more things baseball-wise - just really become more of a real man."
Blanchard believes it is happening.
He grew up in the shadow of JSU and is legendary around his hometown of Leesburg, Ala., having been named The Aniston Star newspaper's player of the year in football, baseball and basketball (he had over 1,000 career points) during his senior year at Cherokee County High. The Alabama Sports Writers Association named him the Alabama Mr. Football in 2009.
In his first season of football at JSU, Blanchard shared time at quarterback with starter Marques Ivory and threw for 296 yards and eight touchdowns, while rushing for a pair of TDs. He also was the team's punter, averaging 39.5 yards, while the Gamecocks finished 9-3 and advanced to the FCS playoffs.
A natural shortstop, he moves around the infield of the Gamecocks' baseball team, which was voted the Ohio Valley Conference preseason favorite after it won the conference tournament and reached the NCAA Regionals last spring. He has a .434 on-base percentage as a leadoff hitter and relishes the chance to jumpstart the lineup, ala a quarterback.
"That's how I like it. I like it as a leader," Blanchard said.
JSU football coach Jack Crowe praises Blanchard for his play-making ability. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder isn't participating in spring drills with the football team, but his mind is on his teammates.
He had about a three-week break between his two seasons and is intent on working to polish his play in both sports.
"Football would probably be learning more about defensive schemes and how the secondary works and blitzes and stuff like that," he said. "At my high school, we really didn't focus on a lot of that stuff, so I was kind of behind when I first got to college. That's definitely what I work on in football.
"Baseball, I guess really more my swing, just kind of learning what pitches to hit, going up with a mindset of what I want to do with the ball instead of going up there and free-swinging, like I did in high school. Pitchers are a lot better. They're going to hit their spots, there's scouting reports on hitters, so you have to go up there with a mindset of what you want to do."
Ivory will be a senior this fall, so Blanchard would figure to be the starting quarterback during his junior season in 2012. His value in the baseball draft, though, would be significantly higher when he's eligible again following his junior season than if he stays at JSU through his senior season.
Had Blanchard signed with the Orioles, he soon would be breaking spring training to go to a Single-A team like Delmarva (Md.) or whatever stop the organization had envisioned for him.
But he likes it just fine at Jacksonville State. Home, sweet, Alabama.
After the football win over Ole Miss, what somebody told him on campus helped make his decision feel even better.
"The best thing was definitely when someone came up and said that, 'We're just happy to have you here,'" Blanchard said. "That just meant a lot to me."