Exclusive: Blanton making the school she loves proud
CLEMSON, SC — Raised in a home where Clemson is a family tradition, when Brianna Blanton announced she planned to take an official visit to the University of South Carolina during her recruitment, it’s small wonder the news was not well received.
After Brianna insisted to father Bo that she intended to go through with her threat, fate ultimately called her bluff.
“I ended up getting sick,” she recalled. “I think it was kind of karma telling me I don’t need to even visit there. … I love Clemson.”
Blanton represented the school she loves awfully well Friday afternoon at the Tiger Paw Invitational — where Clemson hosted over 1,300 athletes at its indoor track complex — as she won the women’s invitational 800 meters with a time of 2:10.70, bettering her own mark of 2:11.77 for fifth place on the program’s all-time list.
“It definitely felt good to finally get out there and run like I knew I could compete,” she said. “It was a really good race overall because all of us competed together and ran really well, but I’m still looking forward to improving my time because I know I can get it down lower.”
Tigers distance coach Brad Herbster believes Blanton’s real forte may actually end up being as a miler, and said, as only a sophomore, she has plenty of room to grow before reaching her true potential, as well as the work ethic to reach it.
“She’s tough; she loves running in a Clemson uniform; she knows what running at Clemson means, especially with the history her dad had here,” Herbster said. “That girl bleeds orange. There are people who just love Clemson, and Bri Blanton is one of those people. She’s just an amazing person — really positive and just a great representative of the university.”
As Herbster alluded to, that love for Clemson was engendered at an early age by her father, who played on the Tigers’ 1981 national championship football team as a quarterback and also played baseball at Clemson in 1981, the year he graduated.
“I think I grew up here more than I did in my hometown (of Summerville, S.C.),” Brianna said. “I’ve been coming to football games since before I can remember.”
That upbringing was on full display Friday, as Blanton, who has a brother and sister who also graduated from Clemson, wore a pair of football-shaped earrings as she motored around the track en route to her personal best time.
“It definitely was exciting finally getting that time, but I know to be competitive in the ACCs and get into the finals, it’s going to have to go down even more,” she said.
The meet was the Tigers’ last before the ACC Indoor Championships in Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 21-23, when they will look to capture their fourth consecutive league title. But the Clemson women have much larger goals beyond the conference crown this year after finishing tied for fifth at the NCAA Indoor Championships last season.
“The women’s team, first and foremost, wants to repeat as ACC Champions, and then really make a run at the national title,” Herbster said. “We’ve got the sprints, we’ve got the jumpers, and stepping in the right direction on the distance side with athletes like Bri.”
The distance events are certainly an area where the Tigers needed a performer to emerge after graduating 2010 ACC 5K champion Kim Ruck, as well as all-conference miler Alyssa Kulik, following last season.
“It definitely gave us an opportunity to step up because someone has to,” Blanton said. “They were such great leaders and motivators, somebody had to pick up the (slack) and finally step up. And our team together, we’re all working harder to get better and pick up where they left off.”
As for her initial recruitment — Blanton was a two-time state champion in the 800 at Summerville High School — she maintains her decision was never in doubt, even if she made her father sweat a bit in the process.
“It was very easy,” Blanton said. “I always liked to play like, ‘I don’t know where I’m going to go,’ but I knew deep down in my heart Clemson was the only choice for me.”