STILLWATER – In the span of one August to the next, Jamie Blatnick has gone from leading the news – in a bad way – to a prominent role in leading the Cowboys.
Good thing Blatnick never cracked last summer, with Oklahoma State strength and conditioning coach Rob Glass testing and stressing him severely on orders from coach Mike Gundy; all the result of the aftermath of a barroom scuffle that saw Blatnick accused of striking former teammate Steve Denning in the face with a beer bottle and resulting in a deferred sentence for pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery.
Only Blatnick's history of exemplary behavior spared him from being shown the exit by Gundy.
“He had the terrible incident a year ago that just really scarred him,” Gundy said. “Before that, he hadn't really had any issues. None.
“He's a 3-something (grade point) student. Going to graduate on time. We just hadn't had anything happen with him. And that happens and it becomes very public. It was just a brutal incident, for the most part.”
After his day in court, Blatnick's place on the team came down to a jury of one: Gundy.
And it came with conditions, starting with a rugged regimen of discipline, requiring Blatnick to trudge to the top of the virtual Empire State Building, via StairMaster daily.
Five-hundred floors per practice. At 14 steps per floor. Roughly the equivalent of five trips to the top of New York City's famous 102-story landmark.
Always one way… up. Every day.
That's what Blatnick did, in the heat on the sideline, while the rest of the Cowboys practiced within full. He also sat suspended from the team's season opener against Washington State.
Bad medicine. For a bad act.
“And what he's done is he's accepted all his punishments and said, ‘Yes, sir.' And we made it hard on him,” Gundy said. “It was really hard. Never said a word. Never balked.
“He's been under certain restrictions that other kids haven't been under. And he never teetered or got close to breaking any of them.”
Now a starter at defensive end, the senior from Celina, Texas, was only recently released by Gundy to talk to the media. Blatnick discussed, hesitantly, having nearly allowed that one ugly incident to wreck his football career, his good name and possibly his life.
“It really opened my eyes and made me see what I really could lose,” Blatnick said this week. “And that's been my thing.
“I love playing the game. I love everybody here. I hate disappointing.”
As the Cowboys surge into the 2011 season, seeking defensive improvement to solidify their status as a national player, Blatnick figures prominently.
He and Richetti Jones form senior bookends on a defensive line otherwise marked by youth and inexperience. Stronger play up front, highlighted by an improved pass rush, would go a long way toward improving a pass defense that allowed too many yards and too many big plays a year ago.
“I feel like I had a good camp,” said Blatnick. “I really busted my butt. It's the last one, and I always try hard, but all summer I worked. And along with really trying to improve my game, I'm trying to improve everyone's game around me.
“If we can all play better, then we can have a better record than last year.”
Blatnick led the Cowboys last season with 5 1/2 sacks. Since then, he and Jones have bolstered their strength, joining both the 500-pound bench and 600-pound squat clubs. They are viewed as major assets.
“Jamie's a veteran guy,” Gundy said. “He's been in battles, played in front of 60-, 80-, 100,000 people. He knows what it takes. He understands fatigue. He understands heat. He understands pain. You can't really substitute for that, you really can't.
“He's become one of the leaders.”
At one point last summer, Blatnick blew past the 8,000-floor mark on the StairMaster. On the road to nowhere?
On the road to here.
“Obviously, things are better,” Blatnick said. “You make a mistake, you pay the price and you keep going. That's what I've done, I've kept going.
“And I learned from it.”