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Tenacity is Nature Coast sophomore's most valuable asset

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Thu. January 19, 2012 | Matt Baker | Email

Tenacity is Nature Coast sophomore's most valuable asset

BROOKSVILLERohan Blackwood dunked as a freshman and caught a winning touchdown as a sophomore.

He has the size (6-foot-5) and frame (195 pounds and counting) to attract recruiters from across the country. His quickness makes him a Division I football prospect, and his leaping ability makes him one of the country’s top 100 sophomores.

But his best asset is that he knows those tools aren’t enough.

“I don’t give up,” Blackwood said.

The Nature Coast sophomore has seen athletic promise go to waste before. One cousin, C.J. Jones, starred at Ridgewood and averaged 18 points as a senior. But he didn’t have the grades for major college hoops.

Another, Byronell Arline, set Pasco County’s rushing record but couldn’t qualify academically for D-I programs. Within a year of graduating high school, he had been arrested on charges of robbery and possession of crack cocaine and marijuana.

“They did something bad in their life, and they never went anywhere,” Blackwood said. “I just want to show them I can be somebody in life.”

If Blackwood does, it will be because he started on the path set by Arline and Jones before veering north alone.

Blackwood grew up playing sports with his older cousins and their friends. Competing against older kids made him grow up fast. By age 8, he was gunning down runners from the outfield and every bit as good as the bigger boys.

“He was just different from everybody,” said his mother, Miranda Jones. “He saw things other kids didn’t see.”

Blackwood began playing AAU ball in elementary school but didn’t explode until eighth grade, when his dad took him to national camps and showcases, including Adidas’ elite Phenom 150 camp in California. That’s when recruiting sites began dubbing the then 6-foot-4 Blackwood a relentless rebounder and one of the top 15 talents for the 2014 class.

“That kind of got his name on the board,” said his father, Anthony Contegiacomo said.

ESPNU ranks Blackwood as one of the country’s top 100 sophomores and his class’ No. 16 power forward. He gets letters from Miami, North Carolina, Baylor and USC and joins Carrollwood Day’s Adonis Welch as the only area players among ESPN’s list of Florida’s top sophomores.

Blackwood had a strong freshman season playing center at Gulf. He averaged 13.1 points and was a second-team all-Sunshine Athletic Conference pick.

In the offseason, his family moved to Spring Hill and enrolled him at Nature Coast, where more structure in the classroom and gym have revealed an infinite potential mixed with an inconsistent present.

Blackwood dove for the winning touchdown to beat River Ridge, tallied five sacks at defensive end and took snaps as a dual-threat quarterback. But he also made rookie mistakes on assignments and positions, relying on his athleticism and long arms to overcome inexperience.

“Physically, it’s there,” Sharks football coach Charles Liggett said. “But he’s still young.”

Blackwood’s raw talent was more obvious on the basketball court, and so was his room for growth. It took time for the forward to grasp Nature Coast’s complex system.

He missed the Sharks’ first game against district front-runner Eustis and was shut out against the Community School of Naples. He averaged six points in November and December.

But Blackwood continued to work. He launched 200 shots after football practice and studied the game with basketball coach David Pisarcik.

“I think what he was lacking was the basketball IQ,” Pisarcik said. “Now that he put his athleticism and basketball IQ together, he can be unstoppable.”

Blackwood nearly was against Eustis in his team’s 64-54 victory. He came off the bench and exploded for 14 points and seven rebounds in one of the most impressive performances of his young career.

Nature Coast teammate and UMass recruit Tyler Bergantino praised Blackwood’s hustle, like running down the loose ball he tipped to a teammate for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. In a hallway outside the gym, Pisarcik put his arm around the 16-year-old prodigy with facial hair.

“About time,” Pisarcik told Blackwood. “We’ve been waiting for that all year.”

So has Blackwood. He said the adjustment to a new school was hard at first, but he’s thriving under his new coach’s teaching and structure. He learns something new every day.

Two months ago, Blackwood said he’d catch the ball in the high post and look for a teammate. Tuesday night, he slashed to the basket. In the second quarter, he attacked the rim from the top of the key, sank a layup and drew the foul. He did the same thing with four minutes to go and the Sharks clinging to an eight-point lead.

“I knew they couldn’t stop me,” Blackwood said, “so I just kept bringing it to them.”

Blackwood knows the only one who can stop him is himself.

Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com.

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