No longer under the radar, Utah’s Julian Blackmon stepped into the spotlight in 2017

Sophomore CB earned All Pac-12 honors in first year as a starter

Utah's Julian Blackmon (23), Andre Godfrey (7), Dimitri Salido (81) and Samson Nacua (26) celebrate after Utah's 19-14 victory over Oregon State in an NCAA college football game in Corvallis, Ore., on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)

Boobie Hobbs doesn’t have to loiter long when he needs his usual jolt of energy at practice.

Utah’s senior defensive back knows his source is inevitable when lining up alongside teammate and fellow cornerback Julian Blackmon. They call each other superstars at practice. Not in an arrogant manner, Hobbs explains. Not to be hyperbolic, either. No, they do it to best simulate those game-day scenarios.

“We do to get ourselves kick-started, to say, ‘We can do this, we can do that,’ and then we’ll transition it to the field,” Hobbs said.

So why is Blackmon, a sophomore homegrown defensive back in his first year as a full-time starter, the provider of such a necessary infusion?

“He’s just everything you want in a corner,” Hobbs said.

Blackmon, the 6-foot-1, 187-pound cornerback, is a bet paying dividends. Utah leaped at the opportunity to secure Blackmon, a lightly recruited player out of Layton High, knowing full-well it eventually would polish off the future diamond in the rough. While Utah lost talented players on its back end to the NFL draft last year, Blackmon was viewed as a crucial part of the new, younger, relatively inexperienced core that coach Kyle Whittingham proclaimed in fall camp had a chance to be the best yet.

Blackmon started 11 games, finished with 43 tackles, had two interceptions, seven passes defended and was second on the team in pass breakups with five in his first year as a starter. His 2017 campaign didn’t go unnoticed. He was voted as an All Pac-12 second-teamer in early December. All Pac-12 teams are selected by the conference’s coaches.

“I really had a chip on my shoulder this year and just being able to make a team this year in All Pac-12 really means a lot to me and my family,” Blackmon said. “All I’m going to do now is keep on working and keep on getting better.”

The upcoming 2017 Heart of Dallas Bowl presents Blackmon and the entire Utah defense with one of its more rare challenges of the season. The West Virginia Mountaineers can be quite the headache for any opponent, specifically the defensive backfield. Utah’s positional group, Whittingham said this week, could be undermanned in the bowl game due to injury.

“They’re kind of just … different,” Blackmon said about West Virginia.

The Mountaineers will be without superstar quarterback Will Grier (hand surgery) and 1,000-yard running back Justin Crawford, who won’t play after announcing he’ll enter the 2018 NFL Draft. But West Virginia has a bevy of wideouts who might pester Utah, headlined by Gary Jennings (94 receptions, 1,030 yards), David Sills V (980 yards, 18 touchdowns) and Ka’Raun White (978 yards, 11 touchdowns).

“I think we’ll be fine in the end,“ Blackmon said, “but what’s tough about them is they just have so much they can do in their offense, and that’s what’s so scary about them.”

Hobbs believes the future of the defensive backfield is in good hands with Blackmon and young corners Jaylon Johnson (out for the bowl game due to surgery), Javelin Guidry and others. He routinely tells Blackmon that if he grew up in a football hotbed like Hobbs’ hometown of New Orleans, he would’ve had the country’s top programs on his tail.

“You’d probably be like a five-star recruit where I’m from,” Hobbs tells Blackmon. “I just feel like when you come to Utah, you look for D-linemen, linebackers because they have a lot of them. They don’t really have a lot of skill guys. You go down to the South or California or Florida to get the skill [position players], but Julian definitely put a stamp on the skill guys in Utah, and I tell him that.”

Blackmon’s roommate, former Timpview wide receiver Samson Nacua, concurs.

“We just try to work hard and show that no matter where you’re from, you’re from Utah, no matter where, you can be the best,” Nacua said. “It really doesn’t matter where you’re from.”

There’s one more big outing left against a Big 12 opponent to cap his banner sophomore year.

Going into the West Virginia game, did Blackmon achieve everything he’d hoped to in Year 1 as a staple of the Utah defense?

“I have,” he said. “Honestly, I came into this season just hoping people would realize I’m not as bad as people think just because I’m from Utah.”

Blackmon made people take notice.