Jaden Blanding’s return was not the main reason Bordentown High’s football team enjoyed a renaissance this fall.
But it sure didn’t hurt.
After transferring to Holy Cross for his junior season, Blanding came back home this year and Bordentown finished 5-3 after going 0-9 in 2019. The five victories were one more than the Scotties accrued in the previous three seasons combined.
In the middle of it all was Blanding, a 6-foot-1, 240-pound two-way terror. Second-year coach Skip Edwards was thrilled to have him back.
“I wasn’t here his first two years but I watched film on him and he was a player,” Edwards said.
Offensively Blanding rushed for 403 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns. Defensively, he was on everyone’s All-County/Area teams with 37 tackles (and 67 hits), two fumble recoveries and five sacks from his defensive line positions. He played end, tackle and nose guard with equal effectiveness.
“For me it wasn’t that difficult because my mindset was to just get to the ball and find the ball,” Blanding said. “I feel I’m capable of playing anywhere on the line. Wherever my coach needed me I tried to do the best I could at that position.
“The biggest difference (between end and tackle/nose guard) was mainly just dealing with double teams. Out at defensive end you only had to deal with a tackle blocking you and maybe the fullback. On the inside it’s a lot more bodies, a lot more bigger bodies. It was more of a challenge but I was up for it.”
The beauty of Blanding is he has the strength to overpower blockers and the speed to get around them. He could also cover receivers if need be.
“Jaden Blanding could have played strong safety, could have played linebacker if we wanted to,” Edwards said. “He was so quick. But he was the kind of guy who liked to put his hand in the dirt. Our defensive coordinator, Rich McGlynn, saw some really good things in him. He came in and loved Jaden right away due to his work ethic as much as anything.”
Blanding began football in the South Jersey United Football League with the Rancocas Valley Chiefs at age 10. He played both ways but because of some excess weight, played offensive line until moving to running back in eighth grade after slimming down.
“I think it was mostly losing baby fat,” he said. “But I started to realize I could actually make something out of myself in football so I started working harder and that contributed to my weight loss.”
Once he dropped behind the line, it was a refreshing change not to just be staring into the other guy’s eyes.
“It was a very, big, drastic move,” Blanding said. “It opened my eyes up and gave me a whole different perspective on football, seeing it from the backfield instead of just being in a three-point stance.”
Upon arriving at Bordentown, Jaden immediately jumped into the running back rotation. He rushed for 329 yards and five TDs as a freshman and 720 yards and seven scores as a sophomore.
Blanding did not start playing defense on a regular basis until transferring to Holy Cross, but he could only play half a season with the Lancers due to the transfer rule. He returned to Bordentown early enough where he did not have to sit out, and enjoyed his finest all-around season.
The fact he played both ways was a joy for Blanding, who has so far received interest from Division III schools Norwich and McDaniel.
“I love running the ball, it’s my favorite thing to do,” he said. “On defense, I love to just tear apart the person in front of me. It’s just my nature in football.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many teams were unable to lift weights as a unit over the summer which may have made it tough to play both ways for a full season. But Blanding got a jump on staying in shape by playing spring football.
“I played for the All-American Chiefs in Westampton, playing both sides of the ball,” he said. “We played against teams in Philadelphia and Maryland. I kept myself conditioned that way so I was ready to do whatever the (Bordentown) coaches needed.”
Edwards feels that those coaches deserve much of the credit for the Scotties resurgence. McGlynn and line coach Mike Smith were in their first year, while holdover Larry Carthan coached a running back rotation to over 1,400 rushing yards. Volunteer Adam Drazpcuk coached tight ends and linebackers while Jalen Daniels worked with the receivers.
“I attribute a lot of this season, first to my coaching staff, and second to a lot of the younger kids getting experience last year and going from an 0-10 season and overcoming all the Covid things thrown at them this year,” Edwards said. “The senior group was a good leadership group. The other kids fell in line. They were out there working every day. We didn’t miss one game.”
Several other players transferred back to the Scotties along with Blanding, who said, “It was really an amazing season. We lifted up a lot of the young guys. A lot of the seniors came back this year and we were on a mission. We told ourselves we wanted to change the culture for Bordentown this year and that’s what we did.”
The Scotties should be strong next season as well. They lose key seniors such as Blanding, Trotman Kertes (69 tackles), Danny Poinsett (28 tackles), Ethan McGlone (35 tackles), Maurice Ciccia (42 tackles) and Symeer Bennett (56 tackles).
But some talented underclassmen return on offense including leading rusher Kerry Nicholas (769 yards, 7 touchdowns) and Omari Owes (235 yards, 9.0 yards per carry), along with quarterback Denny Morolda and all but one offensive linemen. Back on defense will be Michael Poinsett, who led the Scotties with 81 tackles.
“I’ll tell you what,” Edwards said. “I just see good things coming along in this program the next two or three years.”