BLANK: Crafting Blanding’s legacy

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Virginia’s performance against Pittsburgh Saturday was a massive disappointment despite senior safety Quin Blanding’s superlative play.

Mariana Fraser | Cavalier Daily

Like so many games the past few seasons, Virginia’s performance against Pittsburgh Saturday was a massive disappointment despite senior safety Quin Blanding’s superlative play. Blanding led the Cavaliers in tackles, had a tackle for loss and provided an interception late in the third quarter to give the Cavaliers one last chance at turning the game around, which they were unfortunately incapable of doing. 

During the game, Blanding passed Class of 1996 alumnus Jamie Sharper to become the Cavaliers’ career leader in tackles. This is just the latest in Blanding’s long list of accomplishments as a Cavalier. No other active FBS player has as many career tackles as Blanding. He has started every game since arriving on Grounds, and he has ranked second in the ACC in tackles each year until this one — he currently ranks first. He was also named a freshman All-American and first team All-ACC both of the past two seasons. 

In many ways, Blanding represents the ideal player Virginia fans hope for. As a highly touted 5-star recruit from Southeast Virginia, Blanding chose the Cavaliers over top programs like Florida State. He excelled immediately upon arrival and later passed up potential professional opportunities to return for his senior season, becoming a team leader. At halftime during the game against Boston College, Virginia Coach Bronco Mendenhall relied on Blanding to rally the team.

“[I went into] the locker room … Quin Blanding already had the entire team called up and he was addressing them,” Mendenhall said. “I walked up into the circle, and Quin's message continued. I didn't have to say a thing. Quin said it best and said it more appropriately than I could, and he claimed ownership of not only the outcome but setting direction and going forward, which is pretty impressive.”

Blanding is a star local recruit, four-year standout and team leader, but is lacking the team success to match his individual accolades. His career has coincided with Virginia’s longest stretch without a bowl game since 1980. While he and senior linebacker Micah Kiser are among the greatest Cavalier football players ever statistically, it’s difficult to view their careers outside of the context of their team’s failures.

Blanding’s years as a top recruit playing with shallow, under-coached and underperforming secondaries are a microcosm for the team’s failures under former Virginia Coach Mike London. While the Cavaliers had talent in some areas, they were unbalanced and never managed to effectively use it on the field. None of that is Blanding’s fault, but he will likely forever be linked to those teams in spite of his success.

Although Blanding’s name is etched into the Cavalier record books already, his career in Charlottesville is not yet over. Virginia has four games remaining to try to get Blanding in a bowl game for the first time — and an opportunity to end Virginia’s 13-year long losing streak against rival Virginia Tech.

As such, his legacy is not yet set in stone. Instead of being a symbol of a dark era in program history, Blanding can represent a turnaround under Mendenhall’s leadership. Blanding would then not symbolize a program at rock bottom, but rather serve as an example of those who led Virginia back from it — a legacy much more befitting a player his caliber.

“I want him to leave with everything he wants, for the team and the program and for himself,” Mendenhall said. “The greatest thing for me is when I see [Blanding and Kiser] happy. I love seeing them feel good about their team and success.” 

Much has been written about the possibility of a bowl game and the improvements necessary from the Cavaliers to get there. Less has been said about what it would mean for the players, fans and the program — for Blanding and Kiser, it would shape the way future Virginia fans remember them.

Jake Blank is a Senior Associate Sports Editor and Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at j.blank@cavalierdaily.com or on Twitter at @Jake_33.

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