Two days before Spencer Blackburn’s first start for Trinity High School’s varsity football team, offensive coordinator Andrew Coverdale provided his quarterback a long list of plays and asked him to rank them in one of four categories – “love it, like it, OK with it and please don’t call it.”
Coverdale said it’s a routine exercise to gauge his quarterback’s comfort level and that most of Blackburn’s predecessors would return the list with the majority of plays rated as “love it” or “like it.”
But Blackburn is not like most previous Trinity quarterbacks.
“The first time I gave him the sheet he didn’t have a single call he loved, there were four or five he liked and the rest he could tolerate,” Coverdale said. “I was like, ‘Are you freaking kidding me?’ Most guys are like, ‘Call whatever you want,’ but not Spencer.
“I’ve never had that experience with that particular exercise. But that’s who he is. … We’ve been around a lot of kids that are driven, but I’ve never seen anyone that is a perfectionist in the way that he is.”
Blackburn the perfectionist is one victory away from leading Trinity to its first perfect season in five years. The Shamrocks (14-0) – ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 17 in the nation by USA Today – will face Lafayette (13-1) at 9 p.m. EST Saturday in the Class 6-A state championship game at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green.
Blackburn has completed 68.4 percent (160 of 234) of his passes for 2,355 yards and 33 touchdowns with just three interceptions this season. He also ranks third on the team in rushing with 637 yards, 12 touchdowns and 6.0 yards per carry.
And if he also happens to lead the team in “headaches caused” – whether it be getting in the face of a teammate of challenging a coach – well, so be it.
“That’s who I am, just my personality,” Blackburn said. “Ever since I could walk I’ve had a football or baseball or basketball in my hand. I’ve been around sports, and I have a very competitive nature to me. It’s something that’s been inside of me since I can remember. I keep high standards for myself and my team, and I don’t accept failures very well.”
That was evident Friday after the Shamrocks defeated rival St. Xavier 24-14 in the state semifinals. It was a victory worthy of celebration, but when it was over Blackburn questioned his team’s effort and execution.
His own stats were solid – 15 of 25 for 187 yards and two touchdowns – but Blackburn always believes he and his team can be better.
Head coach Bob Beatty said Blackburn has a bit of a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality” and that coaches occasionally have to remind him to enjoy the game and let up on his teammates.
“He’s a perfectionist, so when things don’t quite go right … he has to make chicken salad out of chicken crap,” Beatty said. “That’s football. He can do that, but he thinks everything ought to work perfectly every time.”
That mentality often can be seen at the line of scrimmage before a play as Blackburn waves or points at receivers. Coverdale said it’s such a part of Blackburn’s process that Trinity has limited its pre-snap motion in fear of delay-of-game penalties.
“It’s like he’s his own mime troupe up there sometimes,” Coverdale said with a laugh.
And it’s not uncommon for Blackburn to move a lineman or a running back a quarter of a step so that the alignment meets his standards.
“Everything we do, every inch, every split a lineman or receiver takes, wherever I put my running backs in the backfield, it all means something,” Blackburn said. “They all have their purpose, and they all serve a job. I feel like my job as a quarterback is to put everyone in the right position.”
It’s that attention to detail that has made Blackburn so effective. Beatty has called him the most athletic quarterback he’s ever coached at Trinity, but Blackburn spent most of his career behind someone else.
As a freshman and sophomore, Blackburn was behind Larry Harper III. Last summer, Jacob Woosley won a four-man battle for the job, leaving Blackburn as the back-up after Harper (Waggener) and Drew Zaubi (South Oldham) transferred.
And even this season there were questions about Blackburn after he struggled in season-opening victories over Tennessee powers Ensworth and Brentwood Academy.
“Could he step up from JV and understand varsity speed?” Beatty said. “He went from JV to practice speed, and then he was 3 ½ hours from home at Ensworth in a not-so-nice atmosphere. We won, but I thought, ‘Wow, we have a long way to go.’”
Blackburn had a breakout game in a 37-34 victory over Male on Sept. 9 – throwing for 207 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 100 yards and a score – and has been solid ever since.
Blackburn (6 feet 2, 180 pounds) said he’d love to play college football but has no scholarship offers at this point. He plans to pursue his love of math and science and possibly go into a career in engineering.
But all of that can wait for now. There’s one more pursuit of perfection left Saturday night.
“If we go out and execute we’ll leave Saturday night with a smile on our face and a big trophy in our hands,” Blackburn said.
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
STATE FOOTBALL FINALS
At Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium, Bowling Green
All times EST
* Class A: Beechwood (13-1) vs. Hazard (12-2), 8 p.m.
* Class 3-A: Central (9-5) vs. Belfry (13-1), 6 p.m.
* Class 6-A: Trinity (14-0) vs. Lafayette (13-1), 9 p.m.
* Class 2-A: Christian Academy (13-1) vs. Danville (12-2), 1:30 p.m.
* Class 4-A: Franklin-Simpson (14-0) vs. Johnson Central (13-1), 4:45 p.m.
* Class 5-A: Bowling Green (14-0) vs. Pulaski County (12-2), 8 p.m.