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The making of LeGarrette Blount

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How LeGarrette Blount found success despite himself.

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Know this about LeGarrette Blount, he is a simple man: "All that kid ever needed was a pat on the back and good word in the right ear," says Roger Carr, Blount's junior college head coach. "Then turn him loose and let him play."

Blount's problems arose any time a good word was absent -- during every on-field or in-practice scuffle, or when he punched Boise State's Byron Hout in 2009 and sulked his way out of Pittsburgh in November.

The people around for his assembly -- beginning as a two-star running back with a misspelled first name in his Rivals profile, and now a complete back capable of being the starter on a Super Bowl team -- use the word "love" a lot. Love for his game, love for his dedication and love for his attitude. Blount is described as calm, humble and self-aware. That doesn't mean he has self-control.

"The main thing that I tried to impress upon him, is that if people found out that they could ignite his temper, then they were going to do that," says Gary Campbell, the running backs coach at Oregon. "If they knew that was something that they could do with him, then they were going to try to make it happen."

Blount will have glimpsed or surmounted the pinnacle of his sport on Feb. 1, and he will have done so despite his temper.

★★★

"So we go out there, one of our first days of fall camp, he ran a stretch play around the edge. I'm standing in the back there watching because I'm signalling from afar," says Alan Hall, Blount's junior college offensive coordinator. "The corner has him dead to rights because there's no receiver over there. And literally the corner ran himself out of bounds so he wouldn't have to get between LeGarrette and the goal line."

Blount was an instant success at East Mississippi Community College coming out of little Perry, Fla., which made it puzzling that he garnered almost zero recruiting attention out of high school. He intended to go the Auburn, but had no scholarship offer. Then he failed to qualify academically and settled for a junior college in a town called Scooba in the middle of the Mississippi woods. A place you had to be "going there to find it," according to Carr.

The program introduced Blount to a weight room. Blount introduced a level of physicality that caught his coaches off guard. Blount carried the ball 24 times for 147 yards in his first game as a freshman. Carr asked former retired EMCC coach Tom Goode what he thought of the new running back.

"He said, 'Coach, you're not lathering him up,'" Carr says. "'You gotta give that kid the football.'"

Blount rushed for 2,292 yards on 367 carries in 17 games across his two seasons in junior college. During his freshman season, he led the National Junior College Athletic Association with 156 yards rushing per game. And yet, his coaches are still upset they didn't use him more.

"I look back on my two years with him kicking himself because we didn't use him enough," Hall says. "If I had known then what I know now about him -- we were a spread, four-wide, shotgun, no-huddle offense, and here comes this Herschel Walker type, 'gotta give it to me 45 times a game' back. I probably stunted his growth."

It was easy for Blount to succeed once he entered a program with a baseline of resources. EMCC was able to bring his natural gifts to surface. Carr and Hall tried to run Blount into the ground his sophomore season during the finale against Itawamba Community College. Blount carried the ball 36 times. Carr recalls giving him the ball "20-something times in a row." Blount got stronger in the fourth quarter, finished with 184 yards in an overtime win, and left Itawamba broken.

"After it was over, the coach from the team came and said, 'Roger, I started 11 guys on defense. Five of them aren't even in the game at the end of the game,'" Carr says. "'LeGarrette knocked them all out.'"

★★★

Blount required steady maintenance. Part of his problem was that he could roll out of bed and run a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, as he did one Saturday morning when a coach from a perennial FBS power showed up at Hall's door asking if he could run Blount through a workout. Ed Orgeron, then with Ole Miss, once went to Scooba and asked Blount to take his shirt off.

"[Blount] was sculpture, he really was," Carr says. "If you had asked the good lord to make you a 235-pound running back, he'd have turn around and there would have been LeGarrette Blount."

Big-time coaches stood in awe of Blount as a physical specimen. They perhaps didn't realize how much prodding he needed to continue in the right direction, even if it was only minor adjustments.

"If you had asked the good lord to make you a 235-pound running back, he'd have turn around and there would have been LeGarrette Blount" - Roger Carr

"I never had a problem with his teachers, I never had a problem with anything other than he was a little bit on the lazy side," Carr says. "And when I say lazy side I mean -- he would lift weights, he would clean, he would jerk, he would do anything I asked him to do. It's just the little bitty things."

Carr would wake Blount at six in the morning every day to run on a treadmill whenever the running back returned to campus overweight coming off long holidays. Hall recalls having conversations with Blount about the NFL even then, and trying to impart the mentality needed to be great.

"I used to talk to him about Jerry Rice and Walter Payton, guys who had these unbelievable offseason regimens when they don't need to," Hall says. "It's pretty much understood that they're going to make it every year, but that never stopped them in the offseason in terms of what they needed to do, not only to play at that level but to be the best at that level.

"[Blount] was the kind of guy who had to see it first before he would believe you."

Campbell noticed the same thing after Blount chose Oregon among dozens of scholarship offers at the end of 2007.

"I think you have to let him know what it is you expect of him, and he'll work to get that accomplished," Campbell says. "I think he's one of those kind of guys that, if you tell him there is something he can't do, then that motivates him, too."

★★★

Blount's physical superiority made him a target at the junior college level. Hall compared his running back to Shaquille O'Neal, who spent years getting physically abused in the paint because, in part, he was 7'1, 325 pounds and capable of absorbing jabs and elbows. So, too, with Blount, who was 6'0 and edging 250 pounds even in Scooba, and was the biggest, fastest and strongest person on the field.

Perhaps because he had blossomed in Scooba after a relatively undistinguished high school career, perhaps because of his nature, Blount never took abuse lightly.

"He was nowhere near ready to handle it from a mental standpoint like Shaquille was later in his career," Hall says. "Everybody was trying to take their best shot at him. It took him a while to realize that it was more of a compliment. Instead it was, 'Hey, why are they picking on me? Why am I getting everybody's best or quasi-late shot?' Or, 'Somebody took a stab at me under the pile.' It's because they're afraid of you. It's not because they're trying to be mean, they're trying to get rid of you."

Off the field, Blount has been described as quiet. He hung around the football office, or in his dorm, or ran up the street to get chicken, and that was it, really. He had a low tolerance for any perceived wrong, however. Blount would often get mad on the field. Calming him down required a tailored approach.

"Some people think you fight fire with fire, you get a guy who's got a temper and you go at him with a temper," Campbell says. "I think with a guy like LeGarrette you have to go ahead and be calm. He's the kind of guy, he's so high strung, he's such a competitive guy, that if you start really jumping in his chest and being aggressive with him, he's competitive. He's going to get aggressive back."

Hall warned of Blount's propensity to get "lost in the moment," even in Scooba. On Sept. 3, 2009, on a stage bigger than any Blount had taken in the Deep South, seemingly the entire country saw him crack.

★★★

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Photo: Steve Dykes -- Getty Images

"I was on a whole different end of the field," Campbell says. "By the time I saw what was going on, he was already at the tunnel going out off the field, and [then-wide receivers coach] Scott Frost had him. And I just saw this thing on the board, and then I just ran over to -- I saw the commotion going on, so I ran over.

"The police were trying to keep me from getting to him, and I told them, 'It's my player! It's my player!' And I had to end up running through the police barricade that they set up to kind of keep everybody away and grab him by the arm, and I just pulled him away."

Campbell settled Blount in the locker room, enough that Blount could go back out and apologize.

"When he saw me he said, 'OK, Coach. OK.'"

First-year head coach Chip Kelly suspended Blount for the season the day after Blount punched Hout at the end of the opener against Boise State. Blount didn't argue, though there were allegations that a racial slur had been uttered. He understood he went overboard, especially after Campbell had tried to talk Blount down for much of the game.

"Some things were being said. And I said, 'Just be cool, and don't let them get under your skin.'" Campbell says. "He didn't let it bother him after we talked about it a little bit during the game. But then he just kept saying, 'They keep saying things, they keep saying things, they keep saying things.' And I said, 'Yeah LeGarrette, before the game you said some things that kind of ticked him off about what he was gonna do as far as the game is concerned.'"

Blount began a tour of remorse. He reached out to troubled teens and became perhaps one of the best scout teamers in the country. And though those seem like the perfunctory motions of a troubled high-profile football player, they are also necessary, and don't always get carried out. Blount considered leaving Oregon and going home. He had someone else to set him straight: His mother.

"With all the publicity that brought, I didn't question him about," Barbara Blount told the Oregonian. "I just let him know that I'm here and I love him -- not to question him or judge him."

More than anything, Blount needed a reminder that he was not a monster, that he was loved and that his long-term goals were still within reach. He still had the faith of his most important mentors.

"I love the guy. I love his competitiveness," Campbell says. "Outside of somebody doing something to him, when he feels he's been wronged ... he's the most gentle guy you can be around. He's a great guy, he's a great guy."

Near the end of the 2009 season, a groundswell formed to reinstate Blount. Kelly named Blount the fifth-string running back for the Arizona State game on Nov. 14. He got his first carries since the opener on Dec. 3 in the regular season finale against rival Oregon State. Campbell remembered the roar at Autzen Stadium when Blount finally entered the game, with starter LaMichael James dinged up. He scored a 12-yard touchdown on his first drive, and finished with 51 yards on nine carries to lift Oregon to a 37-33 win and a Rose Bowl berth.

It's unclear what prompted Kelly to finally put Blount on the field. Campbell told Kelly he wanted Blount in the Oregon State game. Kelly told Campbell to wait. It wasn't until midway through Oregon's first drive of the second half that Kelly decided, seemingly prompted by his gut, that it was Blount's time. "So we put him in the game," Campbell says. "And the rest is history."

★★★

If Campbell had any problem with Blount as a runner, it was that Blount never seemed to make full use of his 254-pound frame.

"I always wanted him to be a little more physical, and I told him that when he was at Oregon," Campbell says. "'I said 'I thought this guy would be a little more physical.' But he was a guy that -- he wasn't really a put-his-shoulder-down physical kind of guy, but he was big and strong enough that if you tried to tackle him while he was running, that it was very difficult."

That might explain, in part, why Blount was passed over in the 2010 NFL Draft. He had the physical makeup of a professional running back, no doubt. But Blount had played just 16 games of FBS football, and was often sharing the rock in a talented stable of backs -- Blount had no more than 18 carries in any game of his college career.

"Outside of somebody doing something to him, when he feels he's been wronged ... he's the most gentle guy" - Gary Campbell

Missing all but three games during his senior season meant that Blount had missed valuable reps to improve his receiving and pass blocking skills. He had to learn during his rookie season with the Buccaneers. As he rushed for 1,007 yards -- Blount's 5.0 yards per carry was behind only LeSean McCoy, Darren McFadden and Jamaal Charles among 1,000 yards rushers that season -- he developed a complete game. By the middle of his second season, the Buccaneers trusted Blount as a third down back.

Blount's teammates along the offensive line spoke several times about his progress that season. Most tellingly, they were impressed by his physicality.

"That's something we've been trying to do all season," right guard Davin Joseph told the Tampa Bay Times after Blount had rushed for consecutive 100-yard games. "We've been kind of off and on, and lately we've been doing really good. But it's really been mostly LeGarrette just running like LeGarrette -- breaking that first tackle and keeping things alive."

Then Blount fell off. Second-year head coach Greg Schiano teased a thunder-lightning tandem with rookie Doug Martin heading into the 2012 season, then gave Blount 41 carries to Martin's 319. The Buccaneers traded Blount to the Patriots for Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick in 2013, then Blount rewarded the Pats with 772 yards and 5.0 yards per carry before being allowed to walk in free agency.

That led to a disaster stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Blount was released last November, but the parting was mutual. He was upset he wasn't getting carries behind Le'Veon Bell, and ushered his own dismissal by walking off the field before the end of a road game against the Tennessee Titans. Blount was dressed and headed for the team bus while teammates were still taking off their gear. One Steelers player thought the team should have left Blount behind in Nashville.

And yet, here's Patriots running back Shane Vereen speaking after Blount's 148-yard game against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship.

"We love LeGarrette whether he has 250 yards or 5 yards. He's a great player, a great teammate. He's accepted around here and everybody loves him," Vereen said. "I wouldn't want to tackle him."

Blount has gotten along well with backfield mates everywhere he has been -- at Oregon, in New England, and in Pittsburgh before the episode in Tennessee. Bell and Blount are reportedly good friends -- they got arrested together for marijuana possession over the summer -- and Bell reached out to Blount after the dismissal.

"He's doing good," Bell told ESPN. "Obviously he's not in the best [place] but he understands he made a mistake. But it is what it is.

"He made his decision and he has to live with it."

★★★

The mind doesn't have to stretch to imagine big things for Blount. At 28, he is old by the standards of his position, but his legs are fresh. Blount has carried the ball 766 times across five seasons -- or 130 fewer than Marshawn Lynch's 896 carries over the last three seasons alone. Blount may be running as well as he ever has. His 30 carries against the Colts were the most he has had since rumbling over Itawamba.

But if this is to be Blount's renaissance, perhaps spurred by a Super Bowl win and an earned place in immortality, he still need to address that problem. Despite what you hear from family, coaches and teammates, despite the great things that were written about him after the AFC Championship and may written after the Super Bowl, one question persists: When will Blount gain control of himself?

It seems a question of self-sufficiency. Blount was molded with the help of many into one of the best physical specimens playing running back today, but no one can get inside his head and quash the bug that makes him so mercurial. As long as the temper persists, he stands at the edge of greatness an all-too-human being.