Blake Cashman’s NFL Draft stock is trending up almost as fast as he shoots through the gap to wreak havoc in the opposition backfield. After a combine performance that blew the minds of analysts and NFL personnel alike, some fatherly advice reminds the Eden Prairie native of how he got to this point.
“He’s very excited for me and proud for me but he kind of reminds me now that, after my combine performance, now I’m getting a lot of hype to my name, and a lot of people saying good things about me, he’s just there to remind me to continue to be myself and understand what got me so far and that was how I started my career at the University of Minnesota was being a walk on. He said don’t lose that mindset, you don’t ever want to get complacent in whatever you do in life. Just continue to be the hard working young man that you are…don’t lose sight of your roots and who you are”.
Introducing Blake Cashman…
Blake’s path to the NFL Draft began as a kid growing up in Minnesota. Football was in his blood. Father, Steve, had been a star at St. Thomas in the 80’s and he was surrounded by Vikings fans in the family. Even at a young age, Blake stood out from the crowd.
“From a football standpoint I admired Brett Favre. He’s kind of what led me to be a Green Bay Packers fan when I was really young. I think he’s someone who was not only an outstanding football player but he was also somebody that so many people in the football organisations that he played for spoke highly of. I thought his personality and character, he was someone they loved having around. Then on the field, he had a competitive nature like none other and that’s what I admired about him. I see myself as somebody that’s also very extremely competitive”.
“Definitely got a lot of people upset about that [being a Packers fan] especially my family just because they’re all die hard Vikings fans! I got a lot of crap for it!”.
Fatherly guidance and inspiration…
From a young age, Blake knew that football would be the career choice for him. On his journey through school sports, his Dad was always on hand with expertise from his playing days.
“He was always coaching me up. Whether it was at a practice or after a game, you know, he would give me the whole analysation [sic] of how I played, what I did well, what I didn’t do well, what I could have done better. He never forgets any little detail from my practices or games. So, he was someone who influenced me a lot to continue to play sports, work hard in them and continue to get better, and take my game to heights that I couldn’t even imagine”.
Those early heights were at Eden Prairie High School. He began his time there playing cornerback and wide receiver. In his senior year, he helped the team to a 13-0 record and they became state champions for a fourth consecutive season. It was in this senior year that Blake would make the transition to linebacker that would alter the course of his career.
Getting closer to the action…
“Towards the end of my senior year I was leading my team in tackles as a corner. My coaches kind of woke up and realised, like, hey he’s always around the ball, he’s a very active player, why aren’t we keeping him in the box and getting him closer to the action. They did that, and right away I felt very natural at the position. I enjoyed it a lot and I’m very happy that they made the switch for me, because it’s the position I play now today and it’s given me a lot of experience and knowledge in learning that position as well”.
He elaborated on what it means to transition from corner to linebacker, and how it helped his game improve as he moved to the next level.
“Really, it’s two things that I had to adjust in my game. Firstly, understanding run fits better. When you’re a defensive back, you get time to see the play develop and which gaps the ball will hit. So it’s easier to come down and make a tackle because you get to see the bigger picture. As a linebacker, you’re in the box and you’ve got big offensive linemen trying to get their hands on you. You can’t be hesitant, and you’ve got to react very fast and understand your assignment”.
“The second part of it is being in the box, closer to the football, everything is happening so much more faster. I feel like you have to be very good in your preparation for your opponents as a linebacker”.
From winning to walk on…
His senior year saw Blake tally 72 tackles, six for loss, on the championship winning team. He was named to the Associated Press All-State First Team. With his success, the natural next step would be Division I college football.
“I had zero Division I scholarship offers. I’d had some Division II, local Minnesota, that were good football programs but I was somebody that had a lot of confidence in my ability, always believed that I was better than people actually thought. I always wanted to play at the highest level and give myself an opportunity to get to the NFL. I saw Division I as the only route for me. So, I took a gamble on myself and walked on at University of Minnesota and it worked out for me. I couldn’t be more happy about it”.
“When I walked on, and I jumped right in to their off season workouts, I felt like I was doing a good job. I felt like I was doing a lot better than some of the kids that were on scholarships. So I realised right away that I would be able to play at this level as long as I kept on working hard and stuck with it. I knew eventually, if I continued to do the right things and perform like I was performing, I would get my opportunity. Once you get that opportunity it’s up to you as a person and a player to make the most of it”.
Making the most of every opportunity…
Blake certainly made the most of the opportunity when it came around. After a freshman season spent featuring on special teams, he had a breakout sophomore season. He led the team with 7.5 sacks and earned a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week accolade. In consecutive seasons he won the Gary Tinsley Award which is given to a Minnesota player that embodies underdog spirit. In his senior season he led the team with 104 tackles, of which 15 were tackles for loss. He was named second team All-Big Ten by the media and received the second Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week award of his college career.
“My proudest achievement was becoming a team captain. Just from going from a walk on. That whole process of earning a scholarship and then becoming a senior leader on a team was something I was very proud of. That was very important to me because I like taking a lot of responsibility in to my hands, and enjoyed teaching young players on the team. Teaching them how Minnesota does things whether it be on the practice field, the meeting rooms, the weight room, whatever it may be. Showing them the ropes, and then being a player people can come to for guidance or help and ultimately players look up to you when you’re a leader. I enjoyed being in that spot and having that responsibility”.
Unfortunately for Blake, his career at Minnesota didn’t end quite the way he wanted. During the final game of the season versus Wisconsin, he was ejected for targeting.
“I was frustrated when I got kicked out of the Wisconsin game. That’s always the biggest game of the year for Minnesota and a very strong rivalry game. It’s very important to not only the players and the school but to the state of Minnesota and the state of Wisconsin. So, I wanted to be out on the field, helping my team win and helping bring back the axe trophy that the team wins. It hurt not being out on the field for most of the game but it was one of the highs of my college career experiencing winning the trophy back which hadn’t been done in, like, fifteen years. I tell everyone that I was my team’s biggest cheerleader! I couldn’t have been more happy for those guys and I was proud of how well they dominated the game”.
Not going bowling…
After missing the most part of the Wisconsin game, Blake had one final opportunity as a golden gopher. Minnesota had qualified for the 2018 Quick Lane Bowl. However, as is a growing trend for draft eligible players, he opted to sit out the game to focus on the future. It was interesting to hear a player perspective on an issue that has divided analysts and fans alike.
“I decided not to play in the bowl game. It was a very hard decision for me but I looked it at as something that the NFL was so close. I wanted to take all the time I needed to make the most of that opportunity because that’s always been a dream of mine since I was like five or six. I didn’t want to waste any time getting that process started and wanted to give myself the best shot”.
Hard decision pays off…
It may have been a hard decision but it’s one that is paying off now. When the NFL Scouting Combine rolled around in early March, Blake was more than ready. He featured in the top five linebackers in many of the tests. His performance there has propelled him in to the national spotlight. Analysts raved about his athletic performance and returned to find tape that matches the hype.
“The combine was a great experience. It’s definitely a privilege and a blessing. There’s so many players that dream of going there and showcasing their talents that don’t get that opportunity. Walking away from there, I was very pleased and satisfied with how it all went. It’s funny because going in to it there were so many draft analysts, people that do scouting reports on all these players going to the combine, and they all had me as this pedestrian athlete and football player, someone who was very average and not fast, all these negative things. I knew I was going to exceed all those expectations”.
All those pre-draft preconceptions were blown out the water at the combine. Since then, many analysts have been forced to reconsider their opinion and one such analyst now has Blake listed as the number three linebacker in this years class. There is a consensus that some way behind the two Devin’s (White and Bush) there is a number of similar level players in the class.
The 2019 linebacker draft class…
“I believe personally that I’m just as good as any linebackers in the class. I would definitely agree that there is a lot of talent and lot of guys in this draft class have good tape out there for NFL teams to see. They’ve had a lot of experience of playing at high levels in college. I think regardless of who these teams draft, they’re going to get a good choice. I’m someone that I believe I’ve always taken advantage of my opportunities and always proved people wrong”.
“I know who I am as a person and that’s somebody that works really hard and prepares. That’s such an important aspect of the game of football. It’s not just your athletic ability and your football playing skills. It’s also a mental part. I believe I have that, and I’m somebody that believes in preparing for your opponent each week. In the NFL you have to understand your assignment and what your job is on the field. I believe I’m better than anyone else out there. Hopefully I get the opportunity to show that and prove that to teams”.
Getting the phone call…
With just over 24 hours until the NFL Draft opens in Nashville, teams have wrapped up their interviews with players. The draft boards will be set in stone and teams will have an idea of who they want to pursue. Blake tells me he’s spoken with all 32 teams and there is particularly strong interest from a select group. These include the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints but he hasn’t a preferred landing spot.
“At the end of the day, any player in my position just wants to get the phone call from any NFL team and a chance to live out the dream”.
From Eden Prairie, to a walk on at Minnesota, and on to the NFL. In the next few days, Blake Cashman’s dream is about to come true.
Feature Image Credit: www.nfldraftdiamonds.com
Many thanks to Blake Cashman for taking the time to speak with me. Also, to Case Donohue at The Institute For Athletes for connecting us.