The softball went up and came down. John Blasco Jr., at the time a 6-foot-4, 295-pound soon-to-be sophomore, had found one and gently tossed it up in the air to himself as he sat in the weight room at Stadium High School.
Meanwhile, weights collected dust.
“What are you doing?” Ford said.
Never miss a local story.
“I don’t know. I’m just here. I play football, I guess,” Blasco said.
“Well, what do you play?” Ford asked.
“Defensive line,” Blasco said.
“Defensive line my (butt). You’re a left tackle and that’s what you’re going to be,” the coach said.
It’s a day Blasco and Ford remember vividly, but not just for their first exchange. After he scanned the rest of the room and saw much of the same, Ford said he was unsure if the people present were actually football players.
But Blasco — he could definitely be one.
“I thought to myself, ‘This guy could be a great player,’ ” Ford said. “Right now, this guy is a bum. Like, this guy is a scrub. He doesn’t have any idea what it’s going to take if he really wants to play football at the next level.”
Stadium went 0-10 in Ford’s first season.
Football wasn’t part of Blasco’s future plans. Not like it is now.
He’s now 6-7, 290 entering his senior year after losing about 20 pounds working out with a former NFL player in Cincinnati this offseason. He has aspirations of playing in the Pac-12 next year and has a scholarship offer from the University of Hawaii.
But the reason he came to Stadium? That was because of its choir program.
“My parents were looking for a way to pay for my college and I was pretty uncoordinated and chubby,” Blasco said, laughing. “My mom was like, ‘Well, football isn’t going to be your thing, so you might as well sing. God gave you that gift.’”
He said he still plans to do choir this year, when he can.
The football team had a karaoke contest before a practice last week. Ford couldn’t take anymore from senior running back Jamon Chambers, who was butchering a Ne-Yo song, so he stepped in and took over.
Blasco belted some Chris Brown, though he said he’d go with “No One” by Alicia Keys if the fate of the world depended on it.
“That man has got some vocals,” said senior wide receiver Max Novak. “He’s a 6-7, 290-pound tackle and he’s got the voice of an angel.”
But Blasco’s voice carries even when he’s not singing. He’s since transformed from that apathetic sophomore into a senior leader and part of what Ford says is the team’s strongest position group on the offensive line.
Stadium Bowl is such a beautiful scene that it was ranked by MaxPreps as the fifth-best place in the country to watch a high school football game. Except they weren’t talking about the play of the school’s football teams — the Tigers haven’t had a winning season since 1993.
Blasco doesn’t like talking about two years ago.
“It was like nothing else,” Blasco said. “By game five of that year, I was looking around it was like ... the seniors are leaving and this is their legacy? This is what they’re leaving here?
“Those guys were giving it their all, we just didn’t have guys who were bought in yet with it being Coach Ford’s first year. And when I saw that last meeting after our last game, kids were bawling their eyes out and I was just taking it all in.
“I was like, ‘Wow … never again.’ ”
Blasco was a good player last year, Ford said, not great.
But his mindset has changed since football has become his passion. Ford said it’s all he talks about now.
Blasco overheard his mom on the phone with her cousin, former Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals defensive back Richard Carey, when Carey asked how “John John” was.
“I was like, ‘John John?’ … I haven’t been called that in forever,” Blasco said.
Blasco knew of his cousin, but said he had never met Carey, who he calls Uncle Ricky..
His mom was telling Carey about Blasco’s growth in size and in football. Carey asked if he’d go to Cincinnati to work out at his complex, Personal Trainers World. Blasco had heard of family members going there before, but it was because “they get into trouble and he straightens them out.”
Blasco said he saw it as an opportunity to improve.
He spent 17 days there, getting there at 6 a.m. and leaving at 5 p.m. One of the workouts included rolling a tractor tire up stairs and back down. Twenty five reps.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Spencer Ware was there working out with him, as were some college and high school players.
“And he would never complain,” Carey said. “We were doing one thing where he had to pick up an 80-pound ball and drop it. He got to about 10 and he was like, ‘How many of these?’ I was like ‘100.’
“And he kept going and we counted and at 73 he was just spent. I looked at him and I was waiting for him to throw in the towel, and he says, ’27 more, huh?’ ”
Slowly, but surely, he finished the remaining 27.
Blasco said he plans to return to Cincinnati next offseason before he leaves for college. He certainly left an impression on Carey.
“I told all the people we brought in, I said, ‘You know, this kid right here will definitely be playing on Sundays,’ ” said Carey, who graduated from Garfield in Seattle and attended the University of Idaho. “He has the size, he has the discipline. You don’t have to wake him up to do stuff, he was on time and early to workouts.
“He was like a soldier, and he was a model citizen in this environment. It’s nice to be able to show a bunch of knuckleheads a kid who is as clean and respectful and disciplined and works as hard as John.”
Stadium will play in the 3A Pierce County League this season after playing in the 4A Narrows League for a number of years. But going down a classification will be no walk in the park, especially with five of the eight schools having reached the postseason last year.
But there’s a different culture here. Ford, a former assistant coach at the University of Puget Sound, laughed when asked how different it is now compared to two years ago.
And he wants nothing more than for a player like Blasco to see this program finally enjoy a winning season after so many losing ones.
“Him and I will always have that special relationship,” Ford said. “Because I remember that first time I met him and I said, ‘Hey, listen, if you trust me and do everything I ask you to do, you’ll play Division I football.’ And he’s done that.
“He got a letter from the University of Washington and I said, ‘Look, man, I wasn’t lying to you when I said that. But you have a lot of work to do.’ ”
Blasco now arrives in the weight room oftentimes before Ford does. He’s the one getting on kids for sitting around, throwing a softball up in the air.
“Sometimes I’ll catch myself and say, ‘I was there, I did that,’ ” Blasco said. “I was the kid who wasn’t doing anything. But Coach Ford changed a lot in my life. He put a want (of) football in me.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677