Quarterback’s dream turns from tragedy to testimony
Lee Blankenship was close to living his dream. He was on the sidelines for a BCS National Championship football game. He was being coached by an All-America quarterback who was runner-up to the Heisman Trophy. He was surrounded by great players, and even ran the scout team as players prepared for the next game. It looked like he was going to gain all the football knowledge he needed from expert coaches and players to be a high school football coach-his passion.
And then it happened, a freak accident that would seemingly end his football playing days and impede his goal of coaching football.
Blankenship, a walk-on quarterback at the University of Oklahoma, who was in the same class as the top-recruited quarterback in the country, Rhett Bomar, had just returned from the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, where the Sooners defeated the University of Oregon.
After being home in Spiro a few days, some of his friends called him to go horseback riding. While loading the horses to return home, Blankenship’s buddy’s horse was spooked, rared up and knocked his friend down. To the rescue, Blankenship reached inside and grabbed the horse’s lead rope. As the horse settled down, Blankenship started tying the rope onto the trailor when a strong gust of wind slammed the trailor door open and shut. The horse threw up its head and darted out of the trailer, catching Blankenship’s hand in the rope, ripping through his fingers and leaving his index finger on his right hand badly damaged.
Blankenship’s first thought was, “There goes my football career. This is my throwing hand.”
Doctors reattached the finger, but it began turning black and had to be removed. Blankenship had several surgeries over the next two to three months.
He said his OU teammates were sympathetic, and he even got a call from head coach Bob Stoops, who told Blankenship he was welcome to visit the team anytime. He still had his memories of OU’s 2004 National Championship game against Southern Cal, and the knowledge he gained from OU quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel.
But Blankenship thought he would never play football again.
“I was also upset because I would never play catch with my son like my dad played with me,” Blankenship said.
Not one to quit, Blankenship continued his education, first at Carl Albert State College in Poteau, then at Northeastern Okahoma State University.
He also volunteered to help coach at Spiro High School, where he threw for more than 1,600 yards and 26 touchdowns his senior year.
“I could show quarterbacks the footwork and how to hold their shoulders, teach them about reading coverages and recognizing blitzes, but when I threw the ball, it did weird things,” Blankenship recalled.
However, the more he worked on his throw, he realized he could compensate by rotating his wrist more.
“I was never going to throw it 70 yards again like when I was at OU, but at least I had somewhat of a spiral,” he noted.
Before long, Blankenship received a call from East Central University in Ada, asking him if he’d like to revisit playing football.
“I knew God was opening a door and giving me a great test to be a witness,” Blankenship said.
Blankenship went to East Central, never expecting to play, but the Tigers’ short-passing, run-and-shoot offense was a perfect fit for him.
“I don’t always throw the perfect spiral, and I can’t throw nearly as far as I used to, but I still have my mind and that’s my biggest advantage,” Blankenship said. “I can read defenses, and I know where to throw the ball.
Blankenship, although the second-team quarterback, played in several games during the Tigers’ 3-7 season, even starting one game.
Blankenship will graduate in May with his hopes of becoming a high school football coach still intact.
“A football coach has such a huge impact on high school boys,” Blankenship said. “They are at an influential age. We need Christian coaches in the high school system.”
Chris Bunch, Blankenship’s coach at Spiro High School agrees, and said he believes Blankenship has the qualities needed for coaching.
“He’s the kind you want your kids to be around,” said Bunch. “He doesn’t have any bad habits, he’s well-liked, he believes in God and is a positive influence.”
Bunch said Blankenship is one of the best he’s been around attitude-wise and with his work ethic. In fact, Bunch turned his quarterbacks over to Blankenship while he was helping coach the Spiro team.
“I think he’ll be a top-notch coach,” Bunch said. “He likes being around kids and does a good job motivating them.”
Blankenship said he’s loved football since he was a kid, and sports has always been his ministry.
“When this accident happened, I questioned God, said Blankenship, whose father is pastor of Spiro, Calvary. “I didn’t know if it was some kind of punishment or a test.”
However, Blankenship said because of the accident, he believes he can serve God in ways he never thought possible.
Blankenship said the verse he leans on is Psalm 44: 3 which says, “It wasn’t by their sword that they won the land, nor did their own arm bring them victory, but it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.”
“It’s His right hand, and it’s His arm,” he said. It’s not mine, because mine’s definitely not perfect.”
Blankenship said he will have this testimony for the rest of his life.
“Seeing the victory and glory God has gotten is awesome,” Blankenship beamed. “God uses the weak of the world. There’s no way I could have stepped on a college football field without my Father.”