Strong Body, Strong Mind

Nov. 16, 2001

by Mason Kelley

Family.

It is the rock on which Husky senior Sam Blanche leans. Whenever he needs a boost, the six-foot-one, 220-pound linebacker looks to his loved ones. When he is done playing football he will be content being the kind of parent to his daughter that his mother was to him.

Growing up in Rialto, Calif., Blanche's father wasn't particularly involved in his son's upbringing, thus it was left to his mother, Yvette, grandmother and uncles to raise him and instill in him the values necessary for a successful life. It was his uncles that started him playing football.

'When I was young my three uncles taught me how to play football,' he recalls.'The youngest one, Markus Simms, used to come and pick me up at seven o'clock in the morning. I was eight years old playing in Ontario Pop Warner, where my little brothers Michael and Daniel are now playing.'

While his uncles earned Blanche his start in football, it is Yvette who has been his role model, persevering through life's many curves. Her lessons in life helped Blanche stay focused both on and off the field.

'My mom is one of the best teachers I ever had,' he says. 'Her encouragement, and the words she used to describe how to get through practice were just amazing.'

On his first day in uniform, an Ontario Pop Warner coach placed Blanche at the center position on the offensive line. Blanche hated the position and complained to his mother, who told him that to play another position, he'd have to work harder and run faster. Blanche must have listened well, for he never took another snap at center.

Blanche's grandmother, Inez Bradford, was an important player in his life, providing love and support to Blanche and his mother, who lived with Bradford for much of Blanche's youth.

'I thank the Lord for her,' Blanche says. 'I truly couldn't tell you where I'd be without her and my mother.'

Blanche did not spend considerable time with his father until his high school football success brought the two together. Blanche holds no bitterness towards his father, however, and welcomed him back into his life, opening a door that had been closed throughout much of his childhood.

'I just thank the Lord that he is still alive so I can talk to him, whether he was there for me or not,' Blanche says.

Now 22, Blanche is a father himself, and loves every minute he can spend with his family. He and his wife, Shayla, were married Sept. 2, 1998, His daughter Tiarra is now three years old.

'They have been a strength for me,' he says. 'They have been my backbone. Those long nights after practice, wondering why I wasn't getting the time I felt I deserved, were not as bad with them around.'

Blanche has not only been a father to Tiarra, but also to his younger brothers. He wants to be the kind of role model for them that his uncles were for him.

'Every decision I make I know they are looking at me,' he says. 'I am their example of how to live life. Their father isn't around so I am like a father figure as well as an older brother. I love them to heart.'

For sure, there are less sleepless nights for Blanche this season, as he has blossomed into a starter and playmaker at outside linebacker for the Huskies. Blanche made his first-career start this season against USC, and has since started two more games. He is making the most of the opportunity, ranking among the team's leaders in tackles and tackles-for-loss.

'It feels good to be getting more playing time,' he says. 'That is what every player strives for, to come to a big university like Washington and eventually get to play, whether it be from the time you get here or five years down the road.'

Not only is Blanche excelling on the football field, he is also finding success in the classroom. Blanche says that his best moment at Washington, the chance to start aside, will be receiving his anthropology degree, now only fifteen credits - or one academic quarter - away.

Blanche has endured many difficulties in his life, but chooses to focus on the positive - a loving family, and the chance to play for one of the nation's elite college football programs.

Already a top linebacker, he wants nothing more that to the best father, husband, son, and brother that he can be.

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