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From tumultuous past, Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie LeGarrette Blount forging ahead

TAMPA — LeGarrette Blount knows that, one day, he will tell his son the story.

Exactly two weeks after the worst moment of Blount's life, they brought his son into the world. The first-time father cradled the baby tighter to his chest than any football he'd ever carried.

New life.

That's precisely what Blount needed — metaphorically, spiritually, in every way a man can mark the divide between his failure and his future.

"They brought him in," Blount said of son LeGarrette Jr., whom they call LB. "And just like that, everything was back to normal."

• • •

Blount, 23, sat his helmet on a table outside One Buc Place after practice last week and folded his 6-foot, 248-pound body into a patio chair.

He spoke softly, making strong eye contact, prefacing nearly each response with "Yes, sir" or "No, sir."

The running back had spent the Bucs bye week getting a crash course in the various blitz pickups and pass protections, tools that will enable him to build more playing time beginning today at Cincinnati.

A native of Perry, he took advantage of a day off to drive home and visit with his family, a round trip of five to six hours that would've been unimaginable just more than a month ago when he was playing for the Titans.

"It's just football and family right now," said Blount, who lives in an apartment a few miles from work with Marissa, his son's mother. "It doesn't get any better than this."

The reason for Blount's blissfulness is obvious. Two weeks ago, he made his regular-season NFL debut by rushing for 12 yards on his first carry. He finished with six rushes for 27 yards and a touchdown, with the promise for more.

He is physical and fast, a rare combination of size and speed that the Bucs have lacked in a tailback since Mike Alstott retired.

"That's what surprises a lot of people. Me being almost 250 pounds, (would-be tacklers) look at me like, 'Oh, he's not going to make me miss,' " Blount said. "They're going to come at me with a full head of steam, and I do the first thing that pops in my head to make them miss, and usually it works."

Eventually, the Bucs hope Blount can replace Cadillac Williams, who at 28 is struggling with a 2.5-yard average and will be a free agent after the season.

But instead of feeling rejection or rivalry, Blount has been welcomed with open arms by Williams and fullback Earnest Graham. In fact, Blount joins them for dinner on Thursday nights. And last week they went bowling.

"I've gotten to be around a lot of guys with my experience," Graham said, "and he stands out as one of the nicest guys you ever want to meet. That's truly who he is."

• • •

On Sept. 3, 2009, two weeks before his son was born, Blount and the Oregon Ducks were beaten 19-8 at Boise State in their season opener. A 1,002-yard rusher with 17 touchdowns a year earlier, Blount had been held to eight carries for minus-5 yards that night against the Broncos.

After the game, as the teams converged on the field, Broncos linebacker Byron Hout taunted Blount. As a Boise State assistant coach tried to separate them, Blount landed a right cross that connected with Hout's jaw, who fell to the ground before popping up again.

To make matters worse, Boise State replayed the punch several times on the giant screen in the north end zone. The crowd pelted insults at Blount, who was escorted off the field by Oregon assistant coach Scott Frost before getting into another confrontation with fans.

Blount said one fan punched him and another brandished a chair. In the ensuing riot, Blount had to practically be carried to the field house by Frost and two police officers.

To this day, Blount has not told anyone what Hout said to him, except to confirm it was vulgar and personal.

"A lot of people try to make out like it happened because I was angry we lost the game," Blount said. "That wasn't true. I've lost games before. I've had defeats my whole career. It was definitely because of what was said."

What followed was something else Blount wasn't prepared for. In the new media world of 24-hour replay cycles, Blount seemingly hit Hout not once but about 4,000 times, in high-definition and slow motion.

Though Blount was serving an indefinite suspension from the Oregon football team, it didn't stop him or his family from turning on ESPN's College GameDay at Arizona for the Ducks-Wildcats game to see the following sign: LeGarrette Blount, You Sock.

After meeting counseling requirements from Oregon and the Pac-10, Blount was reinstated for the final month of the season though played sparingly, rushing for 82 yards on 22 attempts for the year.

Unsolicited, he received phone calls and received encouragement from unexpected sources such as Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden.

Blount visited with many NFL teams, including the Bucs, before the draft and believed his workout at the scouting combine, where he ran a 4.6 40-yard dash, might make him a late-round selection. But the stain and stigma of his famous punch was too great, and Blount signed with the Titans as an undrafted free agent.

"It surprised me, but I was prepared for it," Blount said. "I knew it was one of the consequences I might face. I knew I was going to get an opportunity to be drafted. But it didn't happen that way. I tried to get in this league and prove myself again."

Blount has never taken the easy road. He earned the last out-of-state scholarship at East Mississippi Community College, where he became a junior college All-American after rushing for 2,292 yards in two seasons. He worked his way from the bottom of the depth chart at Oregon and was poised to be a Heisman Trophy candidate as a senior before the Boise State incident.

Blount's temper got the best of him again in August, when his helmet was ripped off twice in as many plays, and he threw a punch at Titans defensive end Eric Bakhtiari. It was the kind of thing that happens in every training camp, every day, in the NFL, and coach Jeff Fisher dismissed the confrontation as such, although Blount apologized.

When the Titans tried to sneak Blount through waivers to re-sign him to their practice squad after the final roster cutdown, the Bucs claimed him.

"He's not the reputation," center Jeff Faine said. "It's unfortunate that event happened on the night of the Oregon-Boise State game. But he's not that guy. And during training camp, tempers flare, and he's not that guy. … He seems like a great guy. I gave him a ride home the other day. It was only a five-minute ride, but he's nothing you would expect from the outside looking in."

• • •

Meetings were scheduled to begin in about 10 minutes, so Blount rose from his chair — his gloves still covering his hands — grabbed his helmet and began to head back to work.

"My son is definitely what drives me," Blount said. "He keeps me straight. I know everything I do and everything that I've been doing, it's definitely aimed towards him and trying to get him to live a better life."

From tumultuous past, Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie LeGarrette Blount forging ahead 10/09/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 9, 2010 5:21pm]
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