Denham Springs High School running back Kaleb Blanchard rushed for 1,799 yards and 21 touchdowns as a sophomore, picking up the District 5-5A MVP award, earning All-Metro recognition and distinguishing himself as a rising star in recruiting circles.
But as shoulder, back and hamstring injuries limited Blanchard to four games as a junior, some of the schools that expressed early interest began to back off.
One of the schools that stood firm was rewarded Wednesday when Blanchard committed to Arkansas.
Blanchard made the call after visiting Fayetteville, Ark., last month for the Razorbacks’ junior day.
“Some colleges doubted me and said I’d never be the same Kaleb,” Blanchard, 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, said of the reaction to his injuries. “Arkansas stuck by me.”
Blanchard’s commitment came a day after the direction of the Arkansas program gained some much-needed clarity.
John L. Smith was introduced Tuesday as the replacement for Bobby Petrino, who was fired two weeks earlier amid revelations of an affair by Petrino with a woman he hired as his assistant.
Smith’s contract is for 10 months.
Blanchard said while the Arkansas coaching staff was a consideration, he picked the school because he thought it was the right match for him all the way around.
“When I went up there, everything felt right,” he said.
Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Louisiana-Lafayette were other schools that offered Blanchard a scholarship, Denham Springs coach Dru Nettles said.
TCU and Vanderbilt also expressed heavy interest.
“Some schools didn’t make an offer just because they wanted to see him practice again,” Nettles said.
Blanchard rushed for only 400 yards and five touchdowns last fall after setting the school record for rushing yards by a sophomore. But he said “I feel stronger and faster than ever” as he prepares for his senior year.
Blanchard had arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder during the off-season.
“He’s back to running and working out,” Nettles said. “He’s ready to go. He’s really looking forward to being able to play again this year.”
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