Cherokee County Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2020: Blanchard utilized his athletic gifts to their fullest potential [VIDEO]

Coty Blanchard accepts the 2009 Alabama Sports Writers Association Mr. Football award in this file photo.

NOTE: This is the fifth and final Q&A feature on the Cherokee County Hall of Fame Class of 2020 inductees. The class was originally going to be inducted that year but was not because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest class of inductees will be formally honored at a banquet Saturday at the Gadsden State-Cherokee Arena at 6 p.m. Today’s Hall of Fame focus features former Cherokee County High School multi-sport standout Coty Blanchard.

Coty Blanchard guided the Cherokee County Warriors to two straight Class 4A football state championship games, including the 2009 state title with a 31-27 victory over Jackson which capped a 15-0 season. It was Cherokee County High School’s first football championship.

Following that championship season, Blanchard was named the 28th recipient of the Alabama Sports Writers Association Mr. Football award. He was also a first-team selection at quarterback to the Class 4A All-State Team, the Class 4A Back of the Year, and named Gatorade’s Alabama Player of the Year.

Blanchard completed 200-of-289 pass attempts for 2,916 yards with 35 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also led Cherokee County in rushing with 1,161 yards and 20 touchdowns on 151 carries. Blanchard capped his high school football career by representing the state of Alabama in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic.

Blanchard finished with 6,948 yards passing and 75 touchdowns. He ran for 2,381 yards and 38 scores as a three-year starter at Cherokee County.

Also known for his basketball and baseball talents, Blanchard was originally drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2010 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft with the 1,228th pick in the 41st round, but he elected not to sign with the team. Instead, he began a two-sport career at Jacksonville State University.

His success followed him into college, where Blanchard is perhaps best known for leading the Gamecocks to a stunning upset at Ole Miss in double overtime, 49-48.

But baseball was where Blanchard’s athletic future was destined.

Tampa Bay drafted him with the 458th pick in the 15th round of the 2013 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. Blanchard played within the Rays’ minor league system for three years, which included a pair of all-star game appearances. He’s currently a baseball instructor for Top Gun near Birmingham.

Q: What was it like getting the call informing you that you were selected for the Cherokee County Sports Hall of Fame?

A: “I was ecstatic. It’s a great honor to be part of a special group like this. I thank the committee for inducting me in.”

Q: In your junior and senior football seasons, the Warriors went a combined 29-1. You were the Class 4A state runner-up in 2008 and the Class 4A state champion in 2009, going 15-0. What are some of your favorite memories from those years?

A: “Wow, there’s a lot. It was two awesome years. I’ll never forget them. Not a lot of people play 30 games in two years. That’s a lot of games. Just to have that opportunity was great.

“Just looking back on some games that stick out, I’ll go back a little further. It was my freshman year at East Limestone. We lost that game 6-0, but it was the first time to be in playoffs and you kind of get that bug for win or go home. Unfortunately my sophomore year we had some injuries and didn’t make it, but then my junior year, a big game that sticks out is the second time we had to beat Oneonta in the playoffs. They were a very good team that year. It was extremely cold that night. I think they took the ball down and had it the whole first quarter. We kept fighting. I think Gabe (Chambers) went out that game. He got hurt. Me and DJ (Fife) had to step up a little bit and some other guys, John West, Colin Perry. Also that year, the Deshler game sticks out. It was an unbelievable game, extremely hard place to play. I think they were No. 1 in the state that year. We were getting beat by three touchdowns at halftime. To come back and win 39-36 to go to our first state game was incredible.

“The last game that year, the UMS-Wright game, kind of fueled the fire moving forward for our senior year run. Our senior year, we started with the Piedmont game. We have a lot of respect for those guys, especially what they’ve done as of now. They won it that year in 3A. We obviously didn’t know it at the time. They had a fantastic team and we were really looking forward to that rivalry game. We kicked it off with a big win against them. The Deshler rematch that year was huge, and the one to close it out against Jackson.”

Q: You guys had it all. You had tremendous teammates and a great coaching staff. Would you talk about some of your teammates and coaches?

A: “We were definitely blessed to be part of such a great group, from the coaches to the fans and everyone who helped out. Teammate-wise, we had a huge senior class: myself, Gabe, DJ, Desmond Brown, Colin Perry, John West, the whole offensive line, my center Caleb Whorton, Zae Woods, Seth Hill, Daniel Miller. I don’t want to leave anyone out. Then you look on the defensive side, it was kind of the same thing: Caleb Crane, up front with Hudson (Grimes) and Matt Hill, Cole Sterling, Caleb Hays, Brett Burgess, Kenny Akin, you can just keep going. It was truly just a great team, and it came at a great time.

“No player is anything without a great coach. To have Coach (Tripp) Curry and Coach (Will) Wagnon, they were two of the best to ever do it. They’ve had spectacular careers. Coach Wagnon is still at Auburn. He’s doing fantastic. I couldn’t have had two better guys to coach that team.”

Q: How about some of your memories from your basketball days?

A: “I’m glad you asked that because there are some guys I want to mention in basketball. I always loved basketball. We always had good teams. We played hard. Chai Cowser is one of my favorites. That guy helped me out a lot at the beginning of my career. Even to this day we’re still best friends. Nick Wheeler, Zack Morgan, Keon Rucker, Moryet Chambers, just a bunch of athletes. We were always undersized, never really had a big man, but it was a lot of fun running and gunning. We could shoot. We just really enjoyed playing with each other.”

Q: In baseball, you ended up winning county MVP in 2010. You hit .418 with 12 home runs, 35 doubles, four triples, scored 125 runs and had 100 RBIs. There was a lot of speculation about what you were going to do. You were drafted by the Baltimore Orioles and had several scholarship offers for football and baseball. You chose JSU, where you were able to play both baseball and football. It gave your family a chance to see you. But before we get to that, could you talk a little about your family? You come from a long line of athletes.

A: “Our family has been blessed with athletic genes, starting with my dad (Fran) and my uncle James. It kind of went on to me, being a three-sport athlete. My sister (Candace) played three sports and was very good. They played for three state championships. Of course you’ve got Bayley (Coty’s cousin), who had a tremendous career. He’s an unbelievable player, still trying to get signed with a pro ball team right now. Hopefully everything works out for him. Our family has been blessed with that athletic gene.”

Q: You get to JSU and make an impact almost immediately there. Over you football career, you pass for over 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. You rushed for 1,000 more. Folks tend to forget you were also a very good punter. You averaged 38 yards and pinned opponents inside the 20 with nearly 45 percent of your kicks. But we’ve got to talk about that Ole Miss game. That sort of cemented your legacy at JSU. What is it like for you to be part of one of the most memorable games in JSU history?

A: “That was definitely a fun one. I don’t know how much it was expected honestly going into it. I was still kind of young. Out of high school, you don’t really think about the game. The game was kind of a blur. I remember running out there. It was my first time to punt. I saw my face on the jumbotron. That was probably the first time that had happened. After that, it was just playing ball. There was nothing really that stuck out. I know I’ve had people ask me about the last play. Honestly, what I remember is seeing three white jerseys and I threw it in the middle of them to give ourselves the best chance. It just turned out it was a perfect ball to Kevyn Cooper. I would like to say I was trying to place it right there, but I saw three of our white jerseys and I threw it in the middle to give ourselves the best chance. I guess God took over and placed it right there for him.”

Q: In baseball at JSU, you played in 164 games. You hit .294 and stole 28 bases. You hit seven home runs and drove in 82 runs. After playing in the Cape Cod League for the Falmouth Commodores in 2012, you were drafted in 2013 by the Tampa Bay Rays. What was it like when you got the call to be drafted by the Rays?

A: “It was the second or third day that we knew the phone call was coming. I had a couple of teams call me and tell me to be ready. I remember dad was outside mowing the grass. He didn’t want to be in there. I was kind of following along watching the draft to see who got picked. When Tampa made that call, I went out and gave him the news. It was just a fantastic feeling, one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever felt. The first time I got drafted was a little different. I kind of already made up my mind on what I wanted to do and that was to go to school. It really wasn’t the same thing the second time. It was just a feeling of relief. I was ready to get going.

Q: You moved up through the Rays’ organization, going from Princeton to Hudson Valley and then to Bowling Green. At Hudson Valley, you batted .298 and made the all-star game. You hit .308 with an all-star appearance at Bowling Green. What was it like to be on those all-star teams and with that talent?

A: “Those all-star games were a lot of fun. The one in New York, we got to go on a cruise through the Hudson, right by the Statue of Liberty. It was beautiful. The players, I just got to meet a lot of really good guys. I’m truly fortunate. One guy who sticks out who’s still playing who used to be with the Mets is Amed Rosario. He was a really good guy, great player. He really sticks out.

“It was definitely an honor to be accepted to all-star games like that. It’s something no one can take away from you. I’m truly blessed.”

Q: Your hall of fame induction has been a long time coming because of COVID. A lot of former teammates, coaches and supporters will be in the audience Saturday to watch your induction. Is there a message you want to convey to them?

A: “I just want to thank everyone, from my coaches to family to teammates who helped me get to this spot. There’s no way I could’ve done it without them. Anyone else who was a part of my life that helped mold me to be the type of athlete and person I am, I just want to thank each and every one of them. This is truly an honor. I’m truly blessed and thankful.”

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