STILLWATER â€” Justin Blackmon gets it.
The early morning arrest, the misdemeanor DUI charge, the one-game suspension â€” all of it has changed his life.
That might sound like hyperbole, but it sure doesn't look that way when he plays. Didn't sound that way either on Monday night when the Oklahoma State superstar wide receiver talked to the media for the first time since those tumultuous October days.
â€œSitting out a week,â€ he said, â€œyou feel what it's like to be away from the team.â€
Since a news conference that followed a day after his arrest â€” a stand-up move not normally seen in the pros, much less at the college level â€” Blackmon hasn't been allowed to speak to reporters. Team rules prohibit players who've had run-ins with the law from speaking on behalf of the program.
But even now, more than a month after the arrest and the suspension, you can tell how much it impacted him.
â€œI mean, when you have something taken away, you know how much it means to you,â€ Blackmon said. â€œWhen I didn't get to play that week, it just really set in.â€
He realized how much he loved the game, how hard he'd worked to get where he is.
He also realized that he didn't want to be away from it again.
Suspended the Tuesday before the Kansas State game, Blackmon did everything that his teammates did to prepare. He went to practice and sat in meetings. He learned the game plan and watched the film. But when the buses departed on Friday, Blackmon was not on them.
He kept touch with his teammates, sending texts and offering encouragement.
â€œJust tried to be the best teammate I could be,â€ he said.
That didn't make that weekend any easier. He watched every minute of the Cowboys' gutsy win over the Wildcats, but even though some friends and his father came over to watch the game with him, those were lonely hours for Blackmon.
He longed to be back on the field.
â€œEver since then,â€ he said, â€œI've just been happy to be out there.â€
Watch him play, and you can see it. He mugs for the cameras. He smiles for the fans. He enjoys the game like never before.
Not that Blackmon didn't have fun before, but there's a different pep in his step.
In his first game back, he sprinted across the field to join his teammates and sing the alma mater after they beat Baylor. He tossed aside his helmet. He skipped over to his place in line.
He was smiling all the way.
He was the first to leap onto the wall and celebrate with the fans when the song was over.
Blackmon is enjoying every moment so much that he wouldn't even let a severely sprained ankle keep him from Bedlam. The former Plainview High star let OSU trainers know that he intended to play, and they did their darnedest to get him healed.
But they couldn't take away all of the pain. Blackmon limped to the sideline after almost every catch. He'd limp. He'd wince. Eventually, though, he'd be back out there.
How bad was it?
â€œIt was a lot of pain,â€ he said.
He smiled sheepishly.
â€œWith the adrenaline and everything that was going, I'm sure I wasn't feeling all the pain, but there was a lot of pain that I was feeling.â€
Blackmon didn't care. He gritted it out, catching eight passes for 105 yards and one touchdown.
After what he's been through, he doesn't want to miss any more games.
Truth be told, I'd be shocked to see Blackmon ever get in trouble and be suspended ever again.
That, too, might seem like hyperbole, but watch him play and listen to him talk, and you see that it isn't. Blackmon understands what it feels like to have the game taken away because of his own mistake, knows how it hurts worse because it's a self-inflicted injury. He also knows how to avoid feeling that way ever again.
Blackmon gets it.
He might've acted like a knucklehead the night of his arrest, but he sure isn't anymore.