Southeast Missouri State football players Blanfort, Davis return from knee injuries

Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Southeast Missouri State safety Bryan Blanfort, right, forces a fumble during a game against Austin Peay during the 2009 season. Blanfort was the team's second leading tackler during his junior season but missed the 2010 season following knee surgery. (Southeast Missourian file)

Two Southeast Missouri State football players are especially excited that spring practice is under way.

Senior safety Bryan Blanfort and redshirt freshman return specialist/receiver Spencer Davis, expected to be key performers last year, missed the entire season with major knee injuries that required surgery.

Both are back on the field. While not yet quite 100 percent, they're shaking off the rust and anticipate being major contributors this year.

"It's good to see them back," said Southeast coach Tony Samuel, whose squad is in its second week of spring practice and will have its second scrimmage at noon Saturday. "Neither is 100 percent, but they're close. Both worked hard, rehabbed well."

Blanfort was Southeast's second-leading tackler in 2009 with 79. He also was second with two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. He added three pass break-ups and two forced fumbles.

Southeast Missouri State safety Bryan Blanfort returns an interception during the 2009 season. (Southeast Missourian file)

But Blanfort never even made it to 2010 fall camp as he went down during spring practice.

"I'm glad to be back. It feels good," said Blanfort, a native of Miami. "I'm close to 100 percent. Every day is getting better. By the fall I will be 100 percent."

Blanfort also started most of his sophomore season in 2008, ranking second on the team with three interceptions and sixth with 54 tackles. He saw extensive action off the bench in 2007 as a true freshman.

"He was time tested," Samuel said.

And poised for a big season, which Southeast as a group had without him. The Redhawks earned the program's first Ohio Valley Conference title and first playoff berth.

While Blanfort said he was elated for his teammates and coaches, he wished he could have contributed.

"It was [frustrating], but my teammates kept me up. It was fun to be with the team," said Blanfort, who received a medical redshirt for his lost campaign. "It was hard not being able to contribute, but I knew God had another plan for me."

After Southeast lost 20 key seniors from 2010, 15 of them starters, Blanfort should be able to step right back in as one of the squad's leaders. He expects to have plenty of company.

"We have a lot of good players still on the team," said Blanfort, expecting another big season from the Redhawks even though many people might expect them to take a step back. "Nothing is a given. ... Hopefully we can do better than last year."

While Blanfort already had established himself at Southeast by last year, Davis was hoping to make an early mark during his first collegiate season.

The St. Louis native was going to be afforded that opportunity as he was counted on as Southeast's primary return man for both kickoffs and punts.

Those plans went out the window with the injury suffered early in fall camp.

"It feels real good, getting back in the swing of things. It's been a long time," Davis said. "I'm not 100 percent. Probably about 95 percent.

"I'm getting there. I still have the whole summer to work. I should definitely be 100 percent by fall camp."

Davis, listed as 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds although he's probably a bit shorter and lighter than that, was an electrifying player on two state championship teams at Hazelwood Central High School in 2008 and 2009.

Davis did a little of everything for the Hawks as a senior when he scored 12 touchdowns, eight on punt returns. He averaged eye-popping figures of 18.3 yards on 25 punt returns and 39.1 yards on eight kickoff returns. He also averaged 15 yards on eight carries and nearly 22 yards on seven receptions.

"I've got to take over the return game again," Davis said with a smile.

Davis again will be given that chance, Samuel said, provided he's totally healthy.

Davis plans on that being the case and believes sitting out last season as a redshirt might end up benefiting him.

"It actually helped me learn a lot, see how the program works. I'm a lot more comfortable now," Davis said. "Watching all the players last year, the older guys, learning from them, made me see a lot of things.

"Sitting out, you realize a lot. You really miss it. Now it's time to come back stronger."

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