Denzel Blackwell wins Houston VYPE Football Award

By Liam Smith ’20

Recently, VYPE Houston gave its annual awards to deserving local athletes who have excelled in their respective sports. One of the recipients is Denzel Blackwell, a defensive back for Strake Jesuit’s football team, which went went 10-3 last season, in large part because their senior leadership on defense. Blackwell has played a vital role for the unit ever since his sophomore season. The following interview contains a little background on his career as well as his reaction to receiving the award. 

Q: How does it feel to receive the VYPE Houston Defensive Football Player of the Year?

Denzel: It’s an honor to have the recognition. I feel wonderful about it. I worked hard this season with my teammates. This is something I can bring back to Strake Jesuit to finalize my senior year. I felt like all the hard work I put in at this school paid off, so, I’m very grateful for it. 

Q: Do you have any familial ties to sports?

Denzel: Yeah, both my parents played sports. My dad played basketball at Yates High School and my mom played basketball at Louisiana-Lafayette after receiving multiple D-1 offers.

Q: What sports did you play growing up? Did you play in any specific youth leagues?

Denzel: I played with the Fort Bend Jaguars. That was my first tackle-football league. But I also played at the YMCA, I played soccer, baseball, basketball, football, and track. In middle school, I stuck with football, basketball, and track.

Q: Back when you were on varsity as an underclassmen, did you have any role models you looked up to?

Denzel: Probably, Michael Purvey. He little-brothered me my first year. He was a senior and he served as a leader who could show me the ropes. 

Q: As a safety, you have to watch other players’ film in preparation. Maybe you study professionals’ film to better your own game. Are there any specific players—whether they be in college or the NFL—that you look to model your game after?

Denzel: There’s not one person I model my game after; I look at a bunch of different athletes [regardless of position] and take what I like from their games and apply it to myself. That way, I can be different from the rest. I look at a lot of players: Darius Slay [of the Detroit Lions], Denzel Ward [of the Browns], Jeff Okudah’s tape [of Ohio State] this year, and Jalen Ramsey [of the Los Angeles Rams]. 

Q: Could you explain what it’s like to play safety in the specific 3-4 defense that Strake Jesuit runs?

Denzel: It’s tougher than it looks. Most people think safeties are back there not doing anything—their number probably gets called once per game. But if you have a bad safety, especially with our defensive scheme, [it’s not good]. The safeties make most of the plays because we’re needed for stopping the run while also defending the pass. If you’re a free safety, it’s even more stressful. I’m covering the slot receiver a lot of the time, which is usually the fastest guy on the field. I also have to come down [from the farthest back position on the defense] to help with run support.

Q: What did the coaches see that made you a varsity athlete in your sophomore year?

Denzel: I’d like to give thanks to Coach Blanc for believing in me my sophomore year. Freshman year, I played receiver and [our former head coach] left. Coach Blanc originally had me listed for receiver when Coach Kubiak first came in as an offensive coordinator. Later on, there wasn’t a spot for me at receiver, so Coach Blanc held a meeting with all the coaches and pretty much told them that I was one of the best athletes at Strake Jesuit and I needed to be on varsity somewhere and somehow. Coach Collier took me in and he showed me the ropes at the defensive back position. I took off from there, and I realized I was sharing reps with seniors, which was really inspiring for me since it was only my first year playing the position. I thought, “If I’m good enough to share reps with the seniors, I could really go somewhere with this.” I got on varsity because of my athleticism and how quick and natural it was for me to pick up the skill sets to play.

Q: What do you think was your best performance of your career?

Denzel: I’d probably give it to the Brazoswood game because I had two touchdowns. One was a punt return and the other off a fumble recovery.

Q: What were your athletic scholarship offers?

Denzel: There were a lot of offers: Baylor, HBU, Temple, Dartmouth, UPenn, Sam Houston State, Louisiana-Monroe, and Boston College. I chose Boston College because they were genuine. They had been talking to me since the beginning of my junior year. Boston is a long way from Texas, yet the staff members made long trips down here to visit me during the spring workouts and morning lifts. When I went to their camp, they didn’t hesitate to offer me a scholarship. So after considering all those things, I felt their offer was more genuine and they actually cared about my success. Also, they have a top-ranked business school, which is what I want to major in. 

Q: Best of both worlds, huh?

Denzel: Yeah, it is