When Utah ran out of the tunnel for the last game of the 2017 regular season, Blackmon knew where to look to find his family.

His dad hasn't missed a single game since Julian first put on the red and black Utah jersey, but their relationship with the program went way farther back then that. They watched in 2004 as the Utes went undefeated, and in 2008 as they did it again. Julian now wanted to give his dad something to cheer about like they had years before.

Of course, the Blackmons weren't the only ones interested in the outcome of this game. So much was riding on this game for Utah - a loss to Colorado would mean the Utes spiraled out of control to a 5-7 record to end the season. A win against the Buffaloes would make them bowl eligible.

But before the game started, Blackmon's mind was at peace.

"I always pray before every game and just make sure I'm comfortable in what I'm feeling, (that) the Lord is going to watch over me and make sure I come out of the game okay," Blackmon said. "As far as I've done this, I'm still okay."

Blackmon gave his dad plenty to cheer about that night. The Utes held CU quarterback Stephen Montez to less than 200 yards on 50 percent passing. The 34-13 victory catapulted the Utes to the Heart of Dallas Bowl, where Blackmon had arguably the best game of his life.

Blackmon recorded not one but two interceptions en route to winning the Heart of Dallas Bowl MVP Award. His team held West Virginia quarterback Chris Chugunov to 9-28 passing as Utah came away with a 30-14 victory. As a result, the Utes entered the offseason with a winning record.

 
 

(Photo courtesy Utah Athletics)

"Honestly, it was tough, just going through all the high and lows, and I'm super competitive and I just don't like losing at all. It was definitely a learning curve for me to know that this was a young team and we had a lot to learn before we could be great," Blackmon said. "I just took that into perspective and understood that maybe we're not going to win all these games, but they're definitely going to teach us to keep pushing and keep fighting, because now that we know what it is to lose, we know how to win."

Now that Blackmon is coming off his MVP performance and entering his junior season, he is being looked to as one of the leaders on the team. During the spring practice, Utah coach Kyle Wittingham pulled his star cornerback aside and talked to him about leadership.

"Me and Coach Wittingham talked about leadership because of the year I had last year, I could affect other players in how I react to things," Blackmon said.

The ironic part is that the more Blackmon became a follower of Christ, the more he could become a leader of men. He showed hard work. Accountability. Optimism. Hope.

Blackmon would help lead the team in morning sprints, and do so without complaint. If he wanted to be great, Blackmon realized, he needed to make sure his mindset and approach reflected that.

Now that Blackmon and 13 other returning starters are back for the 2018 season, it's time to see how the hardwork turns out. As for all kids trying to follow in his footsteps, Blackmon had a message for them.

"Believe in what they want to do - if they want to do something, than go out for it, don't let anyone tell them that they can't do it," Blackmon said. "That was something I was told over and over again, yet still I just believed in myself and I had faith in the Lord, that He would get me to where I am, and it's only proven to be correct."

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