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Ohio duo to bow out at Beef 'O'Brady's Bowl

ST. PETERSBURG — They've spent the better part of their 23-year-old existences in the same town and a hearty portion in the same jersey. Often, they've bled, sweat, even sobbed in unison.

At dusk Monday, inside Tropicana Field, their collegiate careers will reach their respective benedictions — concurrently, of course. A few blocks to the west, on the Gulf of Mexico horizon, a sunset will be under way. Fitting.

Beau and Tett will walk off into it together.

"I haven't thought about it too much," Ohio University running back Beau Blankenship said. "It's going to definitely be a little different not playing with him. I guess it will be a little emotional."

Consider the chances of two youth-league counterparts starting four years in the same high school backfield. Stretch the odds a bit further, to where both reach the Division I-A level.

Keep pulling, to bungee-cord elasticity, and you've got the story of Blankenship and Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton. Born three months apart and reared 10 minutes apart, the senior co-captains' final start for the Bobcats will be in Monday's Beef 'O'Brady's Bowl against East Carolina.

"It's awesome," Blankenship said.

"We've been playing (together) ever since our freshman year in high school," Tettleton said. "We know one another, and it's just great to have him back there, a guy I can trust and know he'll have my back."

The collegiate juncture of this mutual journey ends several thousand yards — passing and rushing — from the chalk-lined Norman, Okla., fields where it began.

Tettleton, owner of 27 school records, is Ohio University's all-time leading passer. The son of former big-league All-Star catcher Mickey Tettleton has thrown for 2,500 or more yards and has led Ohio to a bowl in each of his three seasons as a starter.

Blankenship, an Iowa State transfer, set a Bobcats season record with 1,604 rushing yards as a junior. His numbers dissipated this season (183 carries, 844 yards) only because coach Frank Solich wanted to be sure Blankenship stayed upright for the entire season.

"Both guys are bright guys," said Solich, a former Nebraska coach and Tom Osborne disciple who converted to a pistol formation in part because of the Blankenship-Tettleton skill sets.

"Both guys even talk to one another prior to the start of a play and so forth. They just know each other that well."

No surprise, considering their paths first crossed as prepubescent youth-leaguers.

As far as they can recall, it started when they were 6 or 7 years old. Tettleton, also known as Tett, played for the Hawks of the Norman Optimist Club. Blanken­ship played for the Warriors of nearby Washington.

"Everybody knew how good of a player (Beau) was, even in (youth leagues)," Tettleton said.

By their freshman year of high school, both were starting for Norman North, leading the Timberwolves to three state quarterfinal appearances.

Tettleton, at 6 feet hardly the prototypical pro-style quarterback favored by his hometown Division I school (Oklahoma), signed with Ohio. Blanken­ship, who used his wrecking-ball frame (5-feet-9, 206 pounds) to amass 5,000 rushing yards for Norman North, chose Iowa State.

But after one season tarnished by injuries and the departure of the Cyclones coach, Gene Chizik, who recruited him, Blankenship began looking elsewhere. After phoning his folks, he put in a call to Tett.

"He didn't call me looking to come play here," Tettleton recalled.

"And that's when I immediately said, 'Hey, we've got a running back leaving this year and don't really have a set-in-stone guy for the next.' I felt like he'd be able to have a chance to come in here and play because I knew his skill set and what he provided."

A day later, Blankenship decided to move to Athens, Ohio.

"God opened the door and made it all work," said Blankenship, who shares a four-bedroom off-campus apartment with Tettle­ton and two others. "It was pretty quick."

Next thing they knew, Solich was transitioning from a triple-option approach to the pistol and both players were occupying the same huddle — again. Monday afternoon, they'll join forces for one more stanza of sweat. Maybe blood. And most likely, tears.

"Our journey's been awesome," Blankenship said. "And it's great that we're finishing our career in a bowl game."

Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl

Ohio vs. East Carolina, 2 p.m. Monday, Tropicana Field. TV/radio: ESPN; 1250-AM

Ohio duo to bow out at Beef 'O'Brady's Bowl 12/20/13 [Last modified: Friday, December 20, 2013 9:18pm]
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