By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
MONROVIA – Christian Blanco’s football career started seven years ago as a fifth-grade student at Monroe Elementary School.
The senior running back from Monrovia High School wasn’t carrying a football, much less wearing pads or cleats.
In fact, he wasn’t even on a football field.
He was racing his friend Davonte Walls in the 100-meter dash. Walls lost that day, but went home to tell his dad, Donell, about the race.
Blanco’s come a long way since, and become another weapon in the long list of weapons Monrovia will use against Whittier Christian on Saturday night at 7:30 in the CIF-Southern Section Mid-Valley Division championship game at Arcadia High School.
“He (Davonte) came up to me and said, `Hey, dad, I really want you to meet my friend,’ ” recalled Donell, who works security at Monrovia and has served as head coach for the Wildcats freshman football team.
“I saw him (Blanco) race again and I thought he was pretty fast for his size. I encouraged him to play football, and he did.”
It wasn’t long before Blanco signed up to play for the Duarte Falcons. He wasn’t a stranger at Monrovia, where his older brothers Genaro and Rigo wrestled and played soccer.
Blanco grew up attending Monrovia football games and was in awe of star running back Adam Gabriel, who was heavily recruited by Wisconsin, Colorado and USC before signing with Colorado State. Blanco vowed to one day play running back.
“Since I was a little kid I wanted to play running back at this school,” Blanco recalled.
“So I did my best to work as hard as I could to get and run you over.”
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Walls left Monrovia after his freshman season to live with his grandmother in Arlington, Texas. He became a three-year starting safety and earned a football scholarship to Memphis University. He’s twice played at Cowboys Stadium and played in front of a national TV audience.
Blanco’s career, much like his running game, took some time before taking off. He was brought up to varsity his sophomore season and was a kicker/backup fullback as a junior.
He was deep in the depth chart behind Deshawn Ramirez and Justin De La Nuez, among others, last season, but the 5-foot- 9, 210-pounder didn’t let that deter him.
He relished every opportunity running the ball, and he was often found eagerly waiting and standing next to Monrovia coach Ryan Maddox in hopes of getting a few carries in the late part of games last season.
“We knew he was talented,” Maddox said.
Talent alone, however, could get Blanco only so far, so he dedicated himself to losing weight.
In two months, Blanco lost 20 pounds. He watched what he ate and increased his workouts. Every day he jumped rope for 10 minutes.
He turned a large plastic duffle bag into a makeshift warm-up top. He wore a heavy sweatshirt as well in an effort to sweat more. It was a boxing trick he learned from his uncle, George Romo.
The extra work during the offseason didn’t go unnoticed. Blanco’s dedication was on display in the weight room, and soon he shed the pounds.
“He’s an extremely strong young man,” Maddox said.
“He squats probably close to 500 pounds. He’s a hard worker in the weight room and worked his butt off in the offseason to get himself into a position to start.”
Blanco is one among a slew of talented running backs Monrovia utilizes. Michael Harris, Marquise Bias, Derrick Johnson and Charles Jackson are the others. Blanco’s carries, however, have increased exponentially as the season has progressed.
He emerged as an unstoppable force in Monrovia’s 47-14 victory over San Dimas last week, punishing the Saints with 178 yards and four touchdowns.
“It got to the point in the San Dimas game no matter what we ran they couldn’t stop him,” Maddox said.
“As a defensive coordinator, you have to try to take something away. With Blanco, you have a tough-nosed runner with good vision. He has the ability to cut and run you over.”
Blanco is the second-leading rusher on the team with 629 yards and 10 touchdowns. Before last week, Blanco’s name was seldom brought up. He changed that almost in an instant last week, and is now another offensive wrinkle Whittier Christian will have to account for.
It’s the little things, though, that impress Maddox.
“It’s the way he finishes,” he said.
“He’s gotten better throughout the year; that’s why he is where he is now.”
Blanco last season didn’t see any action against Whittier Christian in the semifinals or against San Dimas in the division final. Mason Bryant took over kicking duties and Bueno led the Wildcats in carries against San Dimas.
Losing 12-7 to the Saints in the final still lingers, and it served as a constant reminder for Blanco as he prepared in the offseason.
Only this time he’ll play a bigger role and have more of a say in how it ends.
“I felt like they took something away from us,” Blanco said.
“It’s time for us to go and get it back.”