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April 28, 2012
Robert Blanton won’t be lonely when he joins the Minnesota Vikings. He’ll be surrounded by plenty of Notre Dame connections.
Blanton, the 6-foot-0 ?, 201-pound defensive back who started 26 games and played 50 in an Irish uniform, was selected by the Vikings in the fifth round of the NFL draft Saturday. He’ll join four other players with Notre Dame degrees.
“(The Vikings) did their research and they signed the best guy,” laughed Blanton.
Safety Harrison Smith also was tabbed by Minnesota with the 29th overall pick of the first round Thursday. One half of Notre Dame’s starting 2011 secondary will join former Irish tight ends John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph, and center John Sullivan with the Vikings.
Carlson and Sullivan were in their final years at Notre Dame while the Irish recruited Blanton, and Rudolph was a teammate of Blanton’s from 2008-10.
“(Smith) and I talked on the phone, texted each other not too long ago,” Blanton said. “We were both pretty excited to be picked by the Vikings. That’s going to be fun, especially with the other guys I know.”
A confident, brash Blanton burst onto the scene as a freshman in ‘08, playing in 12 games and starting the last four. He intercepted a pass and returned it 47 yards for a score in the fourth game of his career versus Purdue.
He formed a three-man cornerback rotation with Darrin Walls and Gary Gray in 2009-10, and then started all 13 games for the Irish in 2011. Blanton finished with eight career interceptions - two each season -- and 193 tackles.
Blanton changed his body during the months since the Irish concluded the 2011 season in the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State. A larger, thicker version auditioned for the NFL scouts at Notre Dame in early-April.
“I just wanted to make sure I got bigger, faster and stronger,” Blanton said. “A lot of teams were looking at me to play safety, so I kept a pretty lean frame.
“Playing corner didn’t require me to be as big, but I wanted to put on enough weight to let them know that I can play any position they want me to play. I wanted to make sure I stayed fast while putting on some weight.”
The speculation is that Blanton will play safety for the Vikings. When Irish Illustrated caught up to him Saturday afternoon at his home in North Carolina, he had yet to talk specifics with the Vikings.
“I’m not sure yet,” said Blanton when asked where he would play for the Vikings. “We haven’t talked about it. They just told me congratulations and welcome to the team.”
A few weeks from now, Blanton will wrap up his Notre Dame undergraduate experience with a degree in finance.
“It’s going to be awesome,” said Blanton of Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony on May 19. “It was a lot of hard work, just like football.
“My last two years at Notre Dame were great. When the new staff came in, it was amazing. They helped us out a lot. It’s a blessing.”
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