West Xtra: Western Beaver alumnus re-writing record book at Bethany

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There's little chance that Eric Blinn will ever be compared to former Steelers and current Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace when he runs his pass routes ... in fact, his Bethany College teammates remind him of that all the time.

"I actually get made fun of here because of my speed," he said. "They say I'm slow. Everyone says when I'm running I look really slow but a lot of times no one seems to catch me."

Blinn, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound sophomore from Beaver, may not have blazing speed but he has been leaving defenders in the dust ever since he stepped onto the school's West Virginia campus.

With one game remaining on the Bison's schedule, Blinn already owns the Bethany single-season record for receptions with 83, is the first receiver since Denny Williams in 1980 to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for a season with 1,033 and needs just 3 yards to become the Bison's all-time leader in receiving yards for a season.

"Eric has a mixture of it all," first-year coach Bill Garvey said. "He's not the fastest guy we have in our [receiving] corps, but he's really, really close. I don't know if he has the best hands, but he's really, really close. But he is our most complete guy, for sure. He's the most complete guy we've ever had here."

As a senior at Western Beaver High School, Blinn used his all-around talent to excel in both football and basketball.

He was a standout quarterback and all-conference defensive back for the Class A Golden Beavers, and was on his way to another outstanding basketball season at guard until a high ankle sprain prematurely ended his senior season after 12 games. As a junior, he averaged 21.6 points per game.

But at Bethany he was looking to do whatever it took to get onto the playing field.

"Coming in as a freshman, I didn't know what I wanted to play," he said. "I came in as an athlete. During camp I worked and worked and worked. We had a kid get hurt so the coaches put me out there [as a receiver].

"Coming here, three, four, five receivers get to get on the field so I felt as a freshman that was my best opportunity to play."

And play he did.

In a position he hadn't played since his sophomore year of high school, Blinn appeared in all 10 games last season as a freshman, caught 50 passes for 790 yards and ranked first in the Presidents' Athletic Conference in yards per reception at 15.8.

"Eric is talented, he has the will and want to do it," Garvey said. "He's one of those kids, he's not satisfied. He's only a sophomore, right now the sky's the limit for him. It's kind of remarkable to have the career he's having right now this early.

"We played Geneva in the second game. They were putting somebody over the top on him the whole game and he still had 11 or 12 catches. Teams are definitely preparing for him, no doubt about that. You have to."

Yet he's still managing conference-leading numbers.

Blinn ranks fourth in NCAA Division III in catches per game (9.2), ninth in receiving yards (1,033) and 12th in yards per game (114.8). He leads the PAC in all three categories despite essentially missing a game Oct. 26 against Westminster when he was hurt early in the first quarter fielding a punt and was forced to sit out for precautionary measures and finished with no catches.

The Westminster game came just one week after what Blinn called the biggest game of his career.

With the score tied in the final minute against Waynesburg, Blinn caught a 10-yard pass from quarterback Matt Grimard, broke free and raced 68 yards for the winning touchdown with 20 seconds to play, his second scoring catch in the fourth quarter of a 27-20 victory.

"I ran a 10-yard hitch," Blinn said of the winning play. "The quarterback made a great throw. I caught it and the linebacker came buzzing out. I caught it right inside of him and ran right up the middle of the field."

No doubt putting that blazing speed to use that should help him close in on several other Bethany receiving records. He already has 133 career receptions and 1,823 career yards. Matt Cruse, who played from 2006-09, is the career leader in both categories with 177 catches and 2,625 yards.

"There's no secret," Garvey said of Blinn's success. "He comes to work at practice, works every day, works to get better and does the right things in the offseason. There's no real secret besides hard work and he does that every single day."

Blinn has one more opportunity to add to his sophomore numbers when Bethany (3-6, 3-4) travels to Latrobe to take on Saint Vincent (0-9, 0-7) in the season finale Saturday. Kickoff is 1 p.m.

Rick Davis: rdavis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3789.

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