Despite having a Division I lacrosse scholarship to protect entering his senior year, J.T. Blubaugh never considered not playing for the DeSales High School football team this fall.
The fear of injury doesn't outweigh the passion the 5-foot-10, 185-pound running back has for a school and a program with longtime ties to his family.
His father, John, played for the Stallions in the 1980s, and his near obsession with DeSales football began when he was an elementary student.
"I don't think I missed a DeSales home game when I was in about fourth or fifth grade, and I got to some away games," said Blubaugh, a Galena resident. "My second cousin, Jeremy Ambrose, was a middle linebacker, and that's what attracted me to play football. People ask me why I'm still playing football, and it's because I don't worry about getting hurt. I can't live my life that way. (DeSales football is) a pride thing for me and my family."
Ambrose, a 2004 DeSales graduate, was a key player in 2003 when the Stallions made it to a Division III, Region 10 semifinal and finished 7-5. That season, their offensive struggles were so numerous that they experimented with the single-wing offense and were held under 10 points six times.
The Stallions have gone through scoring troubles this fall as well, although the biggest issue has been more about completing drives than starting them.
After rushing for 595 yards and three touchdowns last year as a complementary back to 2012 graduate Warren Ball, Blubaugh has 375 yards on 65 carries (a 5.7-yard average) and four touchdowns this season.
He did not play in a 34-0 win over Chillicothe on Sept. 21 because of a groin injury but could return to the lineup Friday, Sept. 28, when the Stallions play host to St. Charles in the CCL-Silver Division opener for both teams.
Blubaugh had 190 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries in a 32-26 win over Brookhaven on Aug. 31 and rushed for 91 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries in a 56-22 loss to New Albany on Sept. 7.
On Sept. 14, DeSales had the ball inside Union (Ky.) Ryle's 20-yard line five times in the first half but came away with just three points. Blubaugh rushed for 58 yards on nine carries in the first half but did not play in the second half because of his injury, as the Stallions lost 21-10 to slip to 1-3 for the first time since 1968.
The Stallions have beaten St. Charles 35 consecutive times, including 27-10 last season when Blubaugh caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Alex Perrine in the fourth quarter.
"J.T. is such a great leader and he's just running so hard," coach Ryan Wiggins said. "When he runs, he's angry because he wants to succeed so badly."
Blubaugh has been playing lacrosse since third grade and has verbally committed to play for Ohio State. Although he has been playing football since first grade, he said he didn't love the sport as much as lacrosse until he made his first varsity start in a 31-14 loss to Gahanna on Aug. 26, 2011.
"There's a learning curve to being the starting running back, and I learned a lot of things from (Ball) last year," Blubaugh said. "Playing under him was good. He's a really great teammate and a good person."
Both Blubaugh and Wiggins believe the Stallions will overcome the scoring issues they had through four games.
A senior who is in his second season as the starting quarterback, Perrine is running significantly more option plays this year than he did a year ago.
DeSales, according to Wiggins, also has been going through growing pains on the offensive line.
Through four games, Perrine had rushed for 218 yards and was 18-for-35 passing for 211 yards. Senior wide receiver Oliver Grimard had a team-high eight receptions for 80 yards, followed by junior wide receiver Griff Saunders (five catches for 56 yards) and senior wide receiver LaShaun Sanders (three catches for 56 yards).
"It's been frustrating, of course, when you think you have a really good team and you work hard and don't come out on top," Blubaugh said. "But what I'm hoping is that the first four weeks (made) us a tougher team. Because of our strength of schedule, we're not out of the playoffs yet and we still can win the (CCL-Silver) race. The theme is really about finishing."
"(The loss to Ryle) was a game of so many missed opportunities," Wiggins said. "We put the ball on the ground five times and you simply can't put the ball on the ground that many times. Against New Albany, we were pushing 300 yards rushing, and anytime you can get 250 yards is a good game for us."