This wasn’t the defining summer Rohan Blackwood envisioned when he was a freshman.
Back then, ESPN touted him as one of the top 25 basketball prospects in the country. He towered over his classmates at 6-foot-4 and could already dunk.
He figured he’d spend the final months before his senior year playing in Orlando or Atlanta or Las Vegas, in gyms packed with scouts ready to cement his big-time college basketball future.
Three years, 26 sacks and more than a dozen football offers later, the Nature Coast Tech senior has accepted a new reality.
“I think football might be my ticket,” Blackwood said.
And this is the time for him to punch it.
After playing travel basketball since sixth grade, Blackwood is scrapping the AAU circuit this offseason to focus on bulking up for a college football future at defensive end.
“Basketball is basically a hobby now,” said his father, Anthony Contegiacomo.
Blackwood grew up playing both sports but fell in love with hoops. By eighth grade, he was competing in tournaments and showcases across the Southeast and gaining national acclaim as a ferocious rebounder.
He had always been one of the biggest kids on the court, so his family assumed he’d sprout to 6-9 and fill the frame of a D-I power forward. Letters flowed from North Carolina and Baylor and USC.
The tenacity and leaping ability that made him a strong forward also helped him become a relentless pass rusher and raw receiver.
Some coaches and friends whispered that Blackwood’s future might be in football.
“And I would look at them like, ‘Are you crazy?’ ” Blackwood said.
But soon after he entered high school, Blackwood’s growth spurts stopped. He topped out at 6-5, trapped with the height of a guard and the skill set of a forward.
“He was so big for so long, and he played one position,” his father said. “He’s an in-between guy now.”
Blackwood was talented enough to star in both sports last season, earning all-North Suncoast honors by racking up 15 sacks and averaging a double double for the Class 5A region semifinalists. But with only one offseason left to convince big-time recruiters he deserved a scholarship, he saw two options: Scrap his power game to focus on shooting and remake himself as a guard, or pound weights to boost his football prospects.
The choice became obvious in the spring, soon after Blackwood received a football offer from USF. More than a dozen followed from programs like Wisconsin, Mississippi State, Louisville and West Virginia.
When letters from Miami’s basketball program turned into an offer from Hurricanes coach Al Golden and websites started listing him as a three-star recruit in football, not basketball, Blackwood made up his mind.
“Now I see it,” he said. “Now I see what they were talking about.”
His passion for both sports has evened out, and he’s embraced the future he once ignored — even if it means putting his first love on hold.
Although Blackwood has swelled to 215 pounds — up 20 from his roster weight last fall — some recruiters still question his frame.
He remains one of the lightest weakside defensive ends ranked in the top 25 nationally by 247Sports and Rivals.
In previous summers, running up and down the court erased the size he gained in the weight room. So this year, he’s skipping AAU basketball to focus on adding another 10 pounds of muscle and playing 7-on-7 football at events like this weekend’s Battle of the Bay tournament.
“Him getting stronger is just going to make him better at basketball, wide receiver and defensive end,” Nature Coast coach Charles Liggett said. “The stronger he gets, the thicker he gets, the better.”
Blackwood still plans to play for the Sharks’ basketball team this winter, and he uses his lessons from AAU on the football field.
Playing in a gym in front of dozens of college scouts is no different than seeing recruiters from USF or Wisconsin on the sidelines of his spring jamboree.
“The lights are on,” Blackwood said. “It’s time to shine.”
The only difference is the sport.
HomeTeam Unsigned Preps Battle of the Bay
What: 7-on-7 football tournament at Jefferson
When: Saturday. Pool play starts at 9 a.m., quarterfinals at 3, championship at 4:30
Field: Alonso, Armwood, Boca Ciega, Dixie Hollins, Countryside, Gaither, Hernando, Jefferson, Largo, Nature Coast Tech, Pasco, Plant, Tampa Bay Tech, Tampa Catholic, Zephyrhills
Admission: Free. Fans welcome to attend.
Matt Baker can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.