Boom is back: Big-hitting safety Marquise Blair is healthy and ready to roll

Now-senior strong safety suffered season-ending knee injury last November, but returned ahead of schedule

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Receiver Britain Covey, #17, runs through drills as the Utah football team takes to the practice field for day one of the season on Wed. Aug. 1, 2018.

The boom is back.

Well, not yet. But Utah fans won’t have to wait too long to see No. 13 stalking and waiting to launch himself. Pads come on Friday. Then Marquise Blair will be comfy again. It’s been nine months since the now-senior strong safety went down awkwardly on the turf inside Rice-Eccles Stadium, suddenly halting a stellar junior year in which the one-time JC transfer became a fixture of Utah’s defense.

The knee injury suffered in a runaway win against UCLA last November turned out to be a significant blemish on what would’ve been an otherwise perfect evening. Blair recalls hoping it wasn’t serious, but when he couldn’t stand up on his own, he knew it was. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound big-hitter underwent knee surgery in high school, so he knew what he was up against.

Monotonous days without the sport that he loved. Pushing himself to the limit in rehab, and then having to tone it down.

“It’s just a day-by-day thing,” he said after suiting up during Utah’s first official day of fall practice. “You know it’s hurt, so you can’t force it. You just got to get through it.”

A former JC All-American at Dodge City CC, Blair became a household name in the Pac-12 Conference in 2017 known for his painful open-field hits. Blair played in nine games a year ago, starting six, and lined up all over the field, including stints at strong safety, free safety and even at outside linebacker. He finished the year with 48 tackles.

It’s actually been a couple of months now in which Blair has felt 100 percent.

Once he got to that point, he started perfecting his footwork and has started adjusting to lower his tackling angles once more. Those were things, he said, that were already on the improvement list regardless of the injury.

When asked what adjective he’d use to describe Blair on the field, defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley didn’t blink.

“Nasty,” Scalley said.

Is there any trepidation that it might take some time for Blair to get back to his highlight-hitting ways?

“He was born that way,” Scalley said. “You wish that more people were kind of born with that attitude. For us, it’s kind of reining him in and making sure that, he’s a guy when you’re practicing on a day like today with pads off and there’s not a lot of contact, he gets impatient, he gets frustrated.”

Because he wants the real thing.

It’s a different Blair in 2018. A year ago, as his star began to soar, he was a bit apprehensive when approached for interviews, jokingly trying to evade the Utah sports information staff because he was uncomfortable. On Wednesday, the senior stood tall and spoke about getting through the pain of being sidelined. To Scalley, Blair’s matured plenty ahead of his final year at Utah. He recently became the father of a baby boy, too.

“He gets that it’s not all about showing how physical you can be and the big hits,” Scalley said. “There’s a lot more to it. He’s always had a great heart. I love that kid. He just had a baby, that does a lot to give you perspective. I don’t know if it softens him here [on the field], but it definitely gives you a new perspective.”

Blair said while most would go a little stir crazy in the absence of such a familiar routine, he didn’t.

“Not with me,” he said. “I just keep pushing.”

Scalley said Blair, in fact, returned earlier than expected. So once he felt 100 percent, that was that.

“Wish I had him for a few more years,” Scalley said.