Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton and tailback Beau Blankenship, both natives of Norman, Okla., grew up in Sooner country. But as the pair likes to say, they go to the real OU.
Today, Tettleton and Blankenship hold down the Bobcats’ backfield, just as they held down Norman North High School’s backfield four years ago. Together, they hated Oklahoma University, which governs the culture of their hometown. The Sooners recruited both of them, but offered neither a scholarship.
Tettleton didn’t care. He was an Oklahoma State kid at heart, and when the Cowboys didn’t make him an offer, he happily signed with Ohio.
Tettleton described Blankenship as a general college football fan during their pre-college days together in Norman. Blankenship liked to play more than anything, and Tettleton said he was “going to be the next big thing” on the Norman high school football scene.
Blankenship received FBS offers from Air Force and Iowa State in his junior year at Norman North, and he decided to play for Gene Chizik and the Cyclones in the Big 12.
It looked like Tettleton and Blankenship would separate for real this time.
The two developed a rivalry when they played against each other in their youth days, and it looked like that rivalry would escalate as they planned to attend competing high schools.
But Blankenship had other plans.
“We had a really deep class and he wanted to be part of it,” Tettleton said. “He transferred over, and we’ve been best friends ever since that happened.”
They both thrived at Norman North. Tettleton had 2,494 all-purpose yards his senior season along with 29 total touchdowns. Blankenship rushed for over 5,000 yards and 59 touchdowns through his high school career.
The two were prudent to take their football careers separate ways, but they were destined to reunite.
A string of bad luck at Iowa State for Blankenship led to his fall from prominence. Blankenship got off to a rough start before he even touched the ball in Ames. The man who recruited him, Chizik, had left the Cyclones to coach at Auburn.
Six games into his freshman campaign under the new coaching regime of Paul Rhoads, Blankenship sprained his foot. The injury knocked him out for the season.
The following spring, he hurt his MCL, and in camp, he rolled his ankle. By now, other players were moving past Blankenship in the depth chart.
“There were some times when I felt worn down because we would go full scrimmage a lot of the time, and that was part of some injuries I could have had,” Blankenship said. “It kind of weighed you down a little bit.”
Even when Blankenship was healthy, he did not respond well to the Iowa State coaching staff’s methods of instruction.
“I don’t know if it’s because I was freshman, but I was kind of timid around them because you felt like you couldn’t approach them,” Blankenship said. “The style at Iowa State under new coaches was way harsher. They’re great coaches, but they were not my favorite style of coaching.”
Blankenship thought long and hard about leaving Iowa State. He ultimately realized his success came when he and Tettleton wore the green and white of Norman North. Luck would have Ohio sporting the same colors.
He called his friend to have a rare, strictly-business conversation.
“I told him how great the university was, how great the campus was, and the direction that we were headed,” Tettleton said. “Over the past three or four years, we’ve just been building the program up. He would have a chance to play whenever he got the opportunity [to transfer]. He’s taken advantage of it, and he’s going to be really good for us this year.”
Blankenship is Ohio’s starting running back heading into the Bobcats’ opening game against Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday. It’s his first season as Ohio’s primary runner, having redshirted in 2010 and platooned the back-up role in 2011. Last year, he rushed for 462 yards and four touchdowns.
Tettleton, a multi-faceted quarterback, was the Bobcats’ second best rusher in 2011. He totaled 658 yards on the ground, and that number is skewed a bit by 23 sacks.
The two anchor a fast-tempo Ohio offense that will attempt to out-pace Penn State’s defense. Tettleton will be hard-pressed to expose himself to the Nittany Lions’ front seven, so he may try to test their unproven secondary with his arm.
“I've been studying him as long as I can,” Penn State safety Malcolm Willis said. “As far as the film study goes, I'm in there multiple times a day trying to gather his tendencies and see what he does on any given down. He has the ability to make plays when the first play breaks down.”
Coach Bill O’Brien and defensive tackle Jordan Hill both added that Tettleton’s versatile gameplay will be tough to contain.
Blankenship isn’t the film star his quarterback is, so he didn’t receive as much acknowledgement from Penn State coaches and players as they discussed their preparation for Ohio. The redshirt junior will have his work cut out for him when he’s “acknowledged” by over 100,000 fans at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
But through the clamor, he’ll have a familiar face in the backfield.
“It’s great having one of my best friends back there with me,” Blankenship said of Tettleton. “It feels like it did in high school a little bit.”