RTI: Khari Blasingame

July 13, 2017

Throughout the summer, VUCommodores.com is featuring Vanderbilt football returnees who are relentless, tough and intelligent.

By Zac Ellis
VUCommodores.com

Nashville, Tenn. - Vanderbilt held a 3-0 lead in last fall's season-opening matchup with South Carolina when Khari Blasingame made himself noticed. Thirty-two seconds into the second quarter, Blasingame took a goal-line handoff from quarterback Kyle Shurmur, cut left and steamrolled into the end zone. The one-yard touchdown run pushed the Commodores ahead, 10-0.

The scoring trip was the first of Blasingame's career and the first touchdown of the 2016 season for Vanderbilt. It also helped break the ice for the redshirt sophomore running back.

"It was cool to get the jitters out," Blasingame recalled. "That was a confidence-builder."

Why did Blasingame feel a bit anxious? Because he'd never before played running back in a college football game. The previous spring, Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason had approached Blasingame about moving from linebacker to running back. It was a shift from the New Market, Ala. native's originally path, when he signed with the Dores in 2014 as a linebacker from Buckhorn High.

In 2017, the bruising redshirt junior feels more at home in Vanderbilt's backfield. Last season Blasingame emerged to provide much-needed depth behind Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt's all-time leading rusher. Blasingame backed up Webb to the tune of 449 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns on 97 carries. He became particularly effective in short-yardage situations and found the end zone in SEC games against Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee.

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Now Vanderbilt enters 2017 with one of the most experienced running back corps in the SEC. Blasingame remains a key piece of that puzzle.

"It's been an opportunity to help the team, get on the field and make more plays," Blasingame said.

The position of running back was not entirely foreign to Blasingame prior to last season. He finished his senior season at Buckhorn High just shy of 1,000 yards as a two-way starter for the Bucks. The younger Blasingame once idolized a number of all-time great rushers, from Brian Westbrook and Warrick Dunn to Marshall Faulk and Adrian Peterson. The goggle-wearing Eric Dickerson even held a special place in Blasingame's heart when he wore glasses as a kid.


Blasingame's focus had drifted to defense by his second season at Vanderbilt, where he hoped to thrive in Mason's scheme. But these days? Blasingame is all-in as a ball-carrier - and he knows he belongs in the running back room.

"In some ways, it was easier than I thought I'd be," Blasingame said. "Ralph and those guys have embraced me with open arms. I've been friends with them from the beginning. I roomed with Dallas Rivers freshman year. Josh Crawford is my guy; he's also from Alabama. And everybody knows how dynamic and explosive Ralph is. To be able to add to that group, I'm excited about it."

Added offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig: "Khari can do some great things in the backfield. He and Ralph both bring a little something different to the table, and we hope to maximize their potential."

With fall camp two weeks away, Blasingame has nearly completed his first full offseason as a running back. This season he returns with the likes of Crawford, Rivers and Webb in an experienced Vanderbilt offense, which also brings back quarterback Kyle Shurmur and senior receivers C.J. Duncan, Caleb Scott and Trent Sherfield. In fact, most of the pieces reprise their roles from an offense that hung 45 points in a win over Tennessee last Nov. 26.

Blasingame also serves as a fourth-year player who leads by example; he is a medicine, health and society major and two-time SEC Honor Roll recipient. When not playing football, Blasingame prides himself as a music nerd. He plays saxophone, a talent he sharpened as a brief member of the Buckhorn High marching band. Blasingame's iPod, meanwhile, boasts a cornucopia of genres that stand out in the Commodores' locker room.

"My music is probably more old R&B, hip hop, 2000s hip-hop. Kanye, Jay-Z, things like that," Blasingame said. "But I also like a lot of older music. I'm definitely a fan of Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis. I was into Kenny G for a bit."

If the eclectic Blasingame can make his own music in Vanderbilt's backfield in 2017, the Dores could be looking up.

Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics. Check out his story archive and follow him on Twitter here.
 

 

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