Friday, June 5, 2009

Todd Blackledge Penn State Distinguished Alum

This weekend Todd Blackledge will be honored by Penn State when he is named a Distinguished Alumnus. This is the highest honor that Penn State bestows upon an alumnus and it is one that is well deserved.

From his time at Penn State through his current career at ESPN, Todd has always been a class act. He has always represented Penn State in the highest light.

In the fall of 1980, Todd emerged from a two-way QB battle to win the job over Jeff Hostetler--but not until week four. From 1980-1982 when Todd finished his career, he led Penn State to three consecutive Top 10 finishes—including a National Title in 1982. While being a team leader, earning Academic All-American honors, and winning the Davey O’Brien Award (as the nation’s Top QB) he was also selected to Phi Beta Kappa—the nation’s oldest Academic Honor Society.

He and his roommate—All-American RB Curt Warner helped form the core of the first offense in NCAA History to win the National Title while gaining more yards passing than rushing. In 1982 both Blackledge and Warner finished in the Top 10 in the Heisman Trophy Voting.

As a fourteen year old fan, sitting in section SK that year, there was never any doubt in my mind that Todd would deliver. His game-winning touchdown pass to Kirk Bowman against Nebraska was in the south end zone. That pass, along with the TD pass he threw to Greg Garrity that clinched the National Title against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl—remain iconic moments in the history and legends of Penn State Football.

After 7 years in the NFL (with Pittsburgh and Kansas City) he moved to a career in broadcasting. His talent helped him to move rapidly up the ladder. During his career he was in studio on college football game days for ABC Sports. He then covered the SEC with Vern Lundquist for CBS Sports before coming to ESPN to do Saturday Night games.

He was nominated for an Emmy—alongside people like Tim McCarver and John Madden—and was the only analyst covering college sports to be nominated.

As a coach, I appreciate the demeanor and style with which he covers a game. His insights into how the game unfolds are usually right on—he has a great football mind. From our pre-game meetings on Fridays he gets great information from us as coaches. He then takes that information and transfers it to the fans in a way that is easily understandable—but no so basic as to insult the intelligence of veteran fans.

If you talk to college football coaches, he is easily among the most respected people covering college football today.

What Todd may now be best-known for—is becoming the Emeril Lagasse of College Football. Starting with what was essentially a one-shot profile on a local place to eat during a telecast—Todd’s segment soon became “Todd’s Taste of the Town”. It has even grown to include a corporate sponsor and a tricked-out Tour Bus.

Since watching him play at Penn State I have gotten to know Todd away from the football field. He is a committed family man, someone who truly puts his family first.

He has even started his coaching career—guiding the North Canton Hoover High School Freshman basketball team to an undefeated record this past year.

Todd loves his family, his football and his food—and in that order. One night two years ago, I got to see it first hand. While in Canton, Ohio during May recruiting I was invited over to Todd’s house for dinner. He and his wife cooked out on the grill—dinner included chicken, steak and lasagna all of which were great.

We talked football too—so that covered the food and football.

The family part came after dinner when it was time to throw batting practice. Todd’s got a great yard for wiffle ball, and I soon learned that his sons had advanced skills. It is not everyday that a five-year old can take the pitch of a 38 year old and send it deep.

For those that know Todd as a person and as a professional, we all know that this Honor is well deserved. Everyone here at Penn State is tremendously proud of what he has done, and Penn State is truly a better place for his having been a part of this great institution.