Blanton an ‘ultimate competitor’ for Clinton

Mark Oliver
Clinton High School’s Chase Blanton is a member of this year’s 501 Football Team, sponsored by Conway Regional Health System and First Security Bank. (Mike Kemp photo)

Five games into his senior season, Chase Blanton is not where he wants his team to be.

Winless through the first half of the season, the Clinton senior lineman and linebacker views his final high school campaign with a glass half-full mentality and is ready to face the challenge in front of him head-on.

“Last year, we lost a lot of seniors to graduation,” Blanton said. “We also didn’t have many junior leaders step up. Coming into this year, I knew that someone would need to step up and fill that leadership role, and that’s what I have been trying to achieve this season. As the weeks go by, more and more seniors are stepping up and working together. We know that we have what it takes to be successful and are encouraging our teammates to stay positive. There’s still a lot of football to be played, and we’re excited to see what we can accomplish together.” 

This season, Clinton returned to Class 4A for the first time since 2015. For Blanton and the Yellowjackets, the shift resulted in growing pains for their program.

“Clinton had been dominating in Class 3A in years past, but moving up to Class 4A has been a shock for us,” Blanton said. “The teams we are playing against are really tough, and we aren’t used to losing. In each game we’ve played, we’ve had our chances, but it has taken us too long to get into our rhythm. It’s really pushing me to try harder in each game. We’re all trying to keep our spirits up, keep our heads high, stay proud and make sure that we’re pumped up for each game.”

Blanton was selected to this year’s 501 Football Team — 24 players representing all 11 counties of the 501. The team, sponsored by Conway Regional Health System and First Security Bank, boasts the best the 501 has to offer both on and off the field. The senior was nominated by his head coach, Chris Dufrene.

“Chase is a very smart football player and the ultimate competitor on the field,” Dufrene wrote in his nomination. “He was an all-conference player last year, and we have very high expectations for him to be a leader on the field this year. Chase is the kind of kid you want on your team and in your locker room every year.”

With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on high school football across the 501, Blanton and some of his teammates have committed to an outside-the-box approach to their senior season. 

“In our second game of the season, we had three seniors on our team go into quarantine as probable close contacts,” Blanton said. “From there, it branched out, resulting in 11 total players needing to be quarantined and leaving only four starters left for that game. Since then, a few of us have elected to go into virtual schooling to avoid contact with others and ensure that we can keep playing. During practice, we keep our distance, wear masks and do everything that we need to do to ensure that we can continue playing our senior season.”

With five games remaining in conference play, Blanton looks to the second half of the season with an optimistic attitude and an opportunity to lead his team back to the playoffs. This week, the Yellowjackets face off against Mills.

“For us to earn our first win of the season will take a lot of heart,” Blanton said. “We have the ability to go out there and win, but we need to get our heads straight, our hearts in the game and play with everything we have. Our team needs to support, encourage and help one another, and, ultimately, we have to want it more than they do this Friday night.”

As a senior leader, Blanton puts trust in his coaching staff, and believes that the lessons he’s learned this season will make an impact going forward.

“We have phenomenal coaches,” Blanton said. “They work us hard to make us better. They give us heart and a solid identity for our team and encourage us to be the best we can be. They make sure that schoolwork comes first. They are the solid foundation that each team is built on. They’ve been a big help for us this year.” 

Blanton shares a special bond with older brother Hunter Blanton, who was named to the 501 Football team in 2014.

“I’ve been playing football since the third grade,” Blanton said. “Watching my brother, Hunter, play is what got me started with the game. We have different body builds and play different positions, which makes it even more interesting that we both were named to the team, despite doing different things on the field. It’s an incredible opportunity for me to have made the 501 Football Team just like he did.”

Off the field, Blanton plays percussion for Clinton’s marching band and is active in the high school’s theater program. The senior is also a member of Gifted and Talented and serves in the youth group at Pee Dee Baptist Church in Clinton.

“During the pandemic, Chase has helped serve meals on Wednesdays at his church,” Dufrene wrote. “He is also our FCA leader and leads the youth group at his church. He is a very well-rounded student, including band and football, and teachers in all areas love him.” 

Clinton plays host to Mills at 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 9.