The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, August 27, 2019 1:00 am

Norwell grad anchors Cardinals' O-line

ELIZABETH WYMAN | For The Journal Gazette

At 6-foot-5, 304 pounds, Ball State right guard Curtis Blackwell has the size of an NFL lineman.

The Norwell graduate looks the part, has the work ethic of someone who can block with the best of them, and he still has two seasons of college football ahead of him, so he is only going to get better.

“Having been a former scout and been there, he certainly has all the attributes – tools, size, and you're going to love what you see out of him when you watch him on the practice field,” coach Mike Neu said. “I think for Curtis it's just about sticking to the grind, finishing your career and not thinking about that, but I certainly think Curtis has all the tools and measurables that you could look for. I know he's got the right attitude.”

Blackwell started 10 games last season as a sophomore and made seven starts as a freshman.

Though a professional career could be in his future, Blackwell is more focused on leading the continuous rebuild of this Cardinals team, which kicks off Saturday against Indiana at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

“I know it's very tough to get there, but I think it would be a real blessing if I got that opportunity,” Blackwell said of the NFL. “Right now, I'm focused on the season, and I just got to be the player I can be for this team.”

He's part of a veteran line and an experienced Cardinals roster that ranks fourth in the nation in returning starters (eight on offense and nine on defense).

“I think we all know what each other is going to do, and how we react and we communicate well,” Blackwell said. “I think that veteran experience will be big for us, and (quarterback) Drew (Plitt), keeping him clean is the goal, because he can sling it; we want him to be back there making the big throws.”

Plitt, a redshirt junior, has started a handful of games but this is the first season he's been the starter from the get-go. He's a less mobile quarterback than Riley Neal, who transferred to Vanderbilt for his final year of eligibility, but he has a strong arm.

His offensive line with Blackwell at right guard, senior Danny Pinter at right tackle, senior Andrew Poenitsch at center, redshirt freshman Luke Martin at left tackle and junior Kaleb Slaven at left guard have played numerous games together.

Offensive line coach Colin Johnson, a Ball State alum, knows firsthand what an experienced line can do for an offense.

“When I played here, I was three-year starter and the guys around me were also multiple starters,” he said. “We also blocked for one of Ball State's best running backs ever in Fort Wayne native Marcus Merriweather. It's no mistake when you have a veteran group like that, there's not a whole lot they have and haven't seen.”

Blackwell has seen his share of football.

“I'm not going to lie, freshman year was tough for me,” he said. “It's not only hard physically from a standpoint to play offensive line, but it's hard mentally.

“There's blitz plays, blitz movements and it was kind of all thrown on to me. I just really focused in the offseason to work on the mental aspect of my game. I think it slowed the game down big time last year, and then this year I don't even think I'm the same player.”

For as big and muscular as Blackwell is, he may be the least intimidating player on the field.

“He's about as soft-spoken, and kind-hearted, and polite as it comes, to the point where the guys in the position group tease him about it and he just chuckles and goes along with it,” Johnson said. “He's a light-hearted guy. Then you watch him on the field and he's an animal.”

Blackwell is less than an hour from his home in Uniondale and enjoyed coming home on weekends in the summer to go fishing, be with his family and check in on Norwell football practices.With the season looming, Blackwell is a firm believer in his head coach, Neu, who needs to see the wins roll in if he wants to keep his job. He has a 10-26 record in his first three seasons.

“He wants to win, and we want to win, and he does everything he can to put us in a position that we can to be successful,” Blackwell said. “I know that we just want to get this season going, and we're all excited from the support staff to coaches to teammates.

“Coach Neu is definitely the man, and we got all of the faith and trust in him to follow his leadership.”

Ball State schedule 

Saturday: vs. Indiana, at Lucas Oil Stadium, noon

Sept. 7: Fordham, 2 p.m.

Sept. 14: Florida Atlantic, 2 p.m.

Sept. 21: at N.C. State, TBA

Oct. 5: at Northern Illinois, TBA

Oct. 12: at Eastern Michigan, 2 p.m.

Oct. 19: Toledo, 2 p.m.

Oct. 26: Ohio, TBA

Nov. 5: at Western Michigan, 7 or 8 p.m.

Nov. 16: Central Michigan, TBA

Nov.23: at Kent State, TBA

Nov. 29: Miami (Ohio), TBA

Things to watch 1. Drew Plitt's team - The redshirt junior made three starts as a freshman and three starts last season. As the No. 1 QB this year, look for him to throw the deep pass more and and hold the ball longer than his predecessor, Riley Neal. He is not the most mobile quarterback but returns a talented receiving corps. 2. Riley Miller - The senior hometown hero was named to the All-Mid-American Conference second team a year ago. He was third in the MAC in receptions per game (5.1) and averaged 73.2 receiving yards per game. He was named to the Biletnikoff award preseason watch list, given annually to the top receiver in college football. 3. Defensive turnaround? - The Cardinals gave up an average of 32.4 points last year. In the conference, they averaged 24.2, and their red zone defense was second to last. 4. Big Ten matchup - This is the sixth consecutive year Ball State has squared off with a Big Ten opponent. The Cardinals have lost five straight but four of the five were decided by 10 points or fewer. 5. Malik Dunner - He switched to wide receiver for his senior year after being a running back and kick returner. He was third on the team in rushing last year (25.4 yards per game). He averaged 16.2 receiving yards and was named to the All-MAC third team as a kick returner.

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