Growing up Ardmore
How one town became the perfect home for Jermaine Gresham

by Jenni Carlson Published: December 27, 2007
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u're going to be unique. At the other position ... a dime a dozen.”

Loyd's words hit home. Even though Gresham continued playing basketball — he started for three state tournament teams — his focus slowly but steadily shifted toward football.

"He set me straight,” Gresham said of Loyd. "He'll set anybody straight. He's very straight forward.”

Gresham took to Loyd's sincere care wrapped in brutal honesty. The coach became a confidant, a sounding board, a guiding force.

"Everything that went on in my life,” Gresham said, "the first person I'd probably tell would be coach Loyd.”

When football recruiters wanted to woo Gresham, they went through Loyd first.

And when Gresham returned from his recruiting visits, Loyd's office was among his first stops. He told the coach that Southern Cal was too Hollywood for him and that Miami was nice but the beach scene wasn't his style.

Oklahoma?

"What impressed me,” Gresham told Loyd after his visit, "I went to coach Sumlin's house and I saw the way he interacted with his family.”

Kevin Sumlin, who recently left OU for Houston, was Gresham's primary recruiter.

"I like the way he treated his wife, and I liked the way he interacted with his kids,” Gresham said. "He's a good guy.”

Loyd smiled as he recalled Gresham's words.

"Here's a 17-year-old ... ,” he said, shaking his head. "It's very insightful. He's really a sincere young man with a good heart.”

Loyd wasn't the only one who recognized it.

• • •

Steve and Sharie Blankenship saw more of Gresham the older he became.

Having high school kids around was nothing new for them. A former OU softball player, Sharie helped coach at Ardmore for years, and players were always coming and going from the house. Steve's involvement in youth sports also drew kids to their house.

But Gresham was different.

"I think Jermaine adopted us more than we adopted him,” Sharie Blankenship said.

She is quick to point out that Gresham isn't adopted legally. The Blankenships aren't his guardians either.

"We fill in the cracks,” she explained.

When Gresham was still in high school, Steve, the substitute teacher, would tutor him and Sharie, the school counselor, would encourage him. Now, they help Gresham with everything from scheduling dentist appointments and opening checking accounts to repairing his old-school Cutlass and buying him Christmas gifts.

Gresham even has a room at their house, where he spent much of his break before leaving for the Fiesta Bowl on Wednesday.

Cracks filled.

Relationship cemented.

"They were always there for me, always willing to do anything for me,” Gresham said.

Some have questioned that willingness, including the NCAA. Earlier this year, it inquired about the relationship between Gresham and the Blankenships. Had they provided for him illegally? Had they broken NCAA rules?

Interviews were conducted. Affidavits were signed.

In the end, because the relationship dated back to Gresham's elementary and middle school days, the NCAA deemed it legal.

"Everybody says, ‘When he makes it big, he's gonna buy you ... ,” Steve said. "I say, ‘No, that's not what we did these things for these boys for.' We don't do things to get things back from him.”

Sharie said, "We never wanted anything from him.”

The Blankenships own a cattle ranch, drive nice cars and live in a spacious house. Try as they might, though, they couldn't convince Gresham that he didn't need to buy them anything for Christmas.

Sitting in her office at Ardmore High one morning before the holiday break, Sharie heard her cell phone beep.

"There's Jermaine,” she said.

She punched up the text message.

"I got your present today,” she said, reading it aloud.

She smiled.

"We truly love Jermaine,” she said.

• • •

Jermaine Gresham is more than proud to call Ardmore his hometown

He is lucky.

He knows as much. Perhaps there would've been a coach like Loyd had he lived elsewhere. Perhaps there would've been a couple like the Blankenships, too.

Then again, maybe not.

"It drives me at times,” Gresham said of his inner circle back in Ardmore. "I'm doing it for them. I'm not going to let nobody down from my hometown.”

It took a village to raise this child.

"I guess they got so much invested in me ... I can't let ‘em down.”

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham has a team-leading 11 touchdown receptions on 34 catches this season. The Sooners' sophomore tight end is a native of Ardmore. by CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHOMAN

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