According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, only 480,000 of the approximately 8 million U.S. high school athletes make it onto the field with an NCAA collegiate team.
That’s six percent.
Of that six percent, a small fraction play Division I sports. Many who play Division I (especially in football) never see significant game time. The dream of dressing out for the team you grew up idolizing as a child is at best far-fetched and nearly impossible.
It takes years of painstaking effort, the right connections, unusual levels of talent, and a whole lot of luck to achieve. Here at Ole Miss, there is a student who fighting to realize this dream.
Growing up in Madison, Mississippi, Jack Blumenthal developed a love for football at a young age. Watching a young NFL quarterback named Tom Brady grow from a forgettable sixth round draft pick into arguably the greatest man to ever play the game inspired Blumenthal to pursue organized football at age 10.
“My parents never made me play,” he said. “I had to beg dad to go sign me up for football. I was the one pushing them.”
Blumenthal later picked up other sports, such as baseball and basketball, but football was his real passion.
“It was always just kind of what interested me the most,” he said. “I always loved watching football and keeping up with football, and the game just made the most sense in my head out of all the things I did.”
Freshman year, Blumenthal decided to make football more than just a hobby. He sat his coach down and began to form a plan to make it onto a college field.
“I knew it was something I wanted to do because I loved football, and I just wanted to keep playing,” he said. “Once I decided that, I started talking to my coaches and figuring out what I needed to do.”
The process wasn’t always easy. Junior year, he got the bad news that his coach had decided to leave, taking three years of recruiting contacts, relationships, and progress with him.
This did not phase him. Instead, Blumenthal earned the starting job as quarterback and thrived, leading the St. Andrews Saints to a winning season, something they had not achieved in years prior.
Former teammate John Hardwick Blumenthal was always working. “He brought us all together, kept us focused, made sure we were always focusing on achieving our goals as a team,” he said. “We made him our team captain senior year.”
Blumenthal wasn’t the loud one, or the emotional one, or the funny one. He was calm, collected, and zoned every moment, come practice or game day.
“He kept pretty quiet about the whole recruitment thing,” Hardwick said. “He would tell his closest friends how it was going every once in a while, but his main focus was always on the team first.”
His dedication, work ethic, attitude and high football IQ (knowledge of the game) attracted the attention of some schools. After attending training camps and leading a strong senior campaign, schools such as Millsaps College, Mississippi College, Delta State University, and even Colorado School of Mines began vying for his signature on National Signing Day.
When February third came, Blumenthal realized his dream by signing a letter of intent to play football for Delta State University, but fate hadn’t finished with him yet. In fact, that signature indicated the beginning of the most difficult leg of his journey.
Upon reaching Delta State in August for fall camp, Blumenthal quickly realized something was off. Three weeks later, he was no longer a college football player.
“It’s definitely a question I have to answer a lot, and a tough one to answer, especially when it comes to some of the people that I had to explain my decision to,” said Blumenthal, when asked about his choice to leave Delta State University and his football opportunity. “Delta State was just not the kind of environment I wanted to spend four years in.
“With my recruiting process happening the way it did so fast, so late, when it got down to the end, all I was thinking was football, football, football, and you have to think about the school side too. Things were weird for me, and it just didn’t feel right, but it’s not easy giving up that opportunity, for sure.”
Upon leaving, Blumenthal decided to transfer to the University of Mississippi, his dream school since infancy. Through some of his old recruiting backchannels, he secured a spring tryout for the Ole Miss football team, a Division I SEC team that plays at the highest level of collegiate football. Things wouldn’t be so simple, however, as adversity struck once more.
Two months into the fall semester, Blumenthal suffered a tear in his throwing shoulder; a torn labrum and rotator cuff. The injury was a result of wear over the years that finally came to a head in the weight room.
“I was lifting one day, and all of a sudden, I felt a pop,” he said, “then my whole arm buckled, and I knew my arm was toast.”
Four months removed from the injury, Blumenthal is completing post surgery sports physical therapy to regain his throwing strength. Being injured, specifically in his throwing arm, left him physically unable to take part in the walk-on tryouts he had worked tirelessly to attend.
Gone was his opportunity to show SEC coaches his intelligence, drive, and skills as a player. His dream of playing college football seemed more distant and untouchable than ever. But another unlikely turn was soon to follow.
“After I found out I wasn’t going to be medically cleared to try out, I got a call offering me an interview for an undergrad manager position for the offensive coordinator,” Blumenthal said. “I interviewed and ended up getting the position.”
He is now responsible for attending quarterback meetings with the coaches, learning the offensive scheme, and attending practices as an assistant coach. With this newfound position within the football program, Blumenthal sees it as a huge opportunity to revive his hopes to eventually make the team.
He believes that after a year of coaching the offense and being entrenched in the program, he will be healthy, have all the knowledge necessary to shine in next year’s tryouts and complete the task he set out to achieve as a freshman.
“It’s never over,” he said. “The process continues.”