Gahanna Lincoln Roundup: Ronald Blackman seizes key role in backfield
A few days after putting together a 188-yard, four-touchdown rushing performance that included the winning score in the Gahanna Lincoln football team's 42-41 overtime victory over New Albany on Sept. 11, Ronald Blackman was on the phone with an assistant coach from a small college in central Ohio.
Blackman's path to potentially playing at the next level, though, hasn't always seemed so certain.
Now a senior running back who has scored eight touchdowns and rushed for 550 yards on 64 carries, Blackman saw action in a complementary role last season while playing wide receiver.
That came after having his sophomore season wiped away because of academic ineligibility.
"That was a bad time," Blackman said. "I was ineligible but I could still practice. They were teaching me a lot of things so I could get back to the field my junior year. It was my freshman fourth quarter (academically) that got me. I was all down because I couldn't play (as a sophomore) but I had to get through it. It was a little bit of motivation that I had to be a student first."
Blackman, who finished his junior year with a 3.2 GPA, is a 6-foot, 185-pounder who watched from the sideline in 2018 as then-senior Justus Harris rushed for 1,053 yards and 12 touchdowns and also had 29 receptions.
Then last fall, 2020 graduate Travis Whittaker ran for 1,197 yards and nine touchdowns and added 27 receptions for 239 yards and five scores.
Blackman is filling a similar role for the Lions this fall.
He rushed for 76 yards on seven carries and had four catches for 87 yards in a 48-14 loss to Reynoldsburg on Aug. 28 before rushing for 255 yards on 18 carries in a 49-7 victory over Westland on Sept. 4.
Gahanna lost to Westerville Central 43-0 on Sept. 18 to fall to 2-2 overall and 2-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division. It continues league action Friday, Sept. 25, against visiting Grove City.
"Ron Blackman is the guy," coach Bruce Ward said. "He's a special athlete. There's a lot of things he can do on the football field and I'm glad he's on our team. We knew he had the athleticism to do this, we just didn't know it was going to be to this magnitude so early.
"He's always been a great athlete. He needed to get the confidence and get put in the right position, and we did that this year. We tend to find a good back and kind of use him the same way every year. He's probably taller than Justus but has more breakaway speed than Justus. Justus had great vision."
Gahanna has a new offensive coordinator in Chuck Andrick and a new quarterback in senior Trey Burger in addition to having Blackman in a bigger role.
Blackman has attended Gahanna schools since fifth grade and met Burger shortly after that.
"Going into the season is when coach Andrick and coach Ward asked me how I felt about playing running back because they said, 'You're one of the better athletes and we don't have a lot of guys at running back,' so I accepted the challenge," Blackman said. "I just want to play.
"With Trey, we've been going to school together for seven years and we've been friends for a long time. It's a chemistry that brought us together. We've been working with each other in practice and he motivates me and pushes me to go harder and harder. All of my team really wanted it more (against New Albany). I could see the fire in my teammates' eyes that they were not going down without a fight."
Tennis squad enjoying season
With a 4-1 victory over Pickerington North on Sept. 8, the girls tennis team finished third at 3-2 in the OCC-Ohio.
The Lions, who were 9-5 overall after falling to Olentangy Berlin 4-1 on Sept. 17, are enjoying a second consecutive winning season. They went 5-12 in 2018 before improving to 13-8 last fall.
"Besides all the little procedures and checks, they're just excited to be playing," coach Chris Schwinnen said. "Some of the girls are friends with some of the players on (the Gahanna) boys (tennis) team and they know what it's like to not have a season, so we're taking it one day at a time, which is good. We're having fun, enjoying ourselves and getting some wins. We're playing some good tennis."
Sophomore Frankie Nuss is at first singles and junior Aubrey Thomas is playing second singles, which is a flip-flop from the spots in which the players competed most of last season.
Junior Caroline Mattox has been at third singles, with junior Sophie Graham and sophomore Alana Amer at first doubles and senior Emily Innes and sophomore Natalie Garcia at second doubles.
The drawing for the Division I postseason will be held Sunday, Sept. 27, with the postseason set to begin Oct. 8 and 10 with sectional competition at four sites.
Nuss and Thomas both played singles in last year's sectional, with Nuss reaching the second round and Thomas reaching a quarterfinal, while Graham and Amer lost in the second round in doubles and Mattox teamed with 2020 graduate Madi Herrmann to reach a quarterfinal in doubles.
"We're, again, happy to be out here and the girls have been great," Schwinnen said. "I've got girls with great attitudes and they just want to win some matches."
Soccer teams take steps forward
Getting untracked offensively was one of the biggest challenges during the season's first month for both the boys and girls soccer teams.
The boys squad, led by first-half goals from Brenton Molli, Jimmy-Luka Dragich and Brendon Dorsett, beat Westland 6-0 on Sept. 15 to snap a two-game losing streak.
That goal total equaled what the Lions had scored in their first six games combined.
Gahanna was 4-3-1 overall after beating Hilliard Darby 2-0 on Sept. 17 and 1-0 in the OCC-Ohio before playing New Albany on Sept. 22. The Lions continue league action Thursday, Sept. 24, at home against Westerville South.
The girls team broke a three-game skid with a 14-0 victory over Westland on Sept. 15. The Lions were 4-4 overall after beating Canal Winchester 2-1 on Sept. 17 and 1-0 in the league before facing New Albany on Sept. 22.