Hi, my name is Liam Smith. I go to Strake Jesuit, an all-boys Catholic high school in Sharpstown. Though I live in Sugar Land, I commute everyday at 5:30 in the morning for cross country practice. I've run cross country and track ever since my Sophomore year—I'm enjoying my time on Varsity this season. Besides homework and running, I serve as an editor for my school newspaper and literary magazine. I also geek out on college football and basketball every fall and spring. Hopefully, I can combine my fondness of writing and athletics to make some kind of living in the sports journalism world. For now, I'll be writing for the Strake Jesuit Varsity football, basketball and (hopefully) baseball teams this year.
Earlier in the year, VYPE Houston asked the fans to vote for their VYPE Houston Defensive Player of the Year.
Denzel Blackwell, senior defensive back for Strake Jesuit's football team and Boston College football commit, won the poll.
Strake Jesuit went 10-3 last season, in large part due to their senior leadership on defense. Blackwell has played a vital role for the unit ever since his sophomore season.
VYPE caught up with Campbell to get a little background on his career as well as his reaction to receiving the award.
Q: Firstly, how does it feel to receive the fans' vote for VYPE Houston Defensive Football Player of the Year?
Denzel: It's an honor to have the recognition. I feel wonderful about it. I worked hard this season with my teammates. This is something I can bring back to Strake Jesuit to finalize my senior year. I felt like all the hard work I put in at this school paid off, so, I'm very grateful for it.
Q: Do you have any familial ties to sports?
Denzel: Yeah, both my parents played sports. My dad played basketball at Yates High School and my mom played basketball at Louisiana-Lafayette after receiving multiple D-1 offers.
Q: What sports did you play growing up? Did you play in any specific youth leagues?
Denzel: I played with the Fort Bend Jaguars. That was my first tackle-football league. But I also played at the YMCA, I played soccer, baseball, basketball, football, and track. In middle school, I stuck with football, basketball, and track.
Q: Back when you were on varsity as an underclassmen, did you have any role models you looked up to?
Denzel: Probably, Michael Purvey. He little-brothered me my first year. He was a senior and he served as a leader who could show me the ropes.
Q: When you're a safety, you have to watch other players' film in preparation. Maybe you study professionals' film to better your own game. Are there any specific players—whether they be in college or the NFL—that you look to model your game after?
Denzel: There's not one person I model my game after; I look at a bunch of different athletes [regardless of position] and take what I like from their games and apply it to myself. That way, I can be different from the rest. I look at a lot of players: Darius Slay [from the Philadelphia Eagles], Denzel Ward [on the Browns], Jeff Okudah's tape [at Ohio State] this year, and Jalen Ramsey [from the Los Angeles Rams].
Q: Could you explain, to the people that don't already know, what it's like to play safety in the specific 3-4 defense that Strake Jesuit runs?
Denzel: It's tougher than it looks. Most people think safeties are back there not doing anything—their number probably gets called once per game. But if you have a bad safety, especially with our defensive scheme, [it's not good]. The safeties make most of the plays because we're needed for stopping the run while also defending the pass. If you're a free safety, it's even more stressful. I'm covering the slot receiver a lot of the time, which is usually the fastest guy on the field. I also have to come down [from the farthest back position on the defense] to help with run support.
Q: What did the coaches see that made you a varsity athlete in your sophomore year?
Denzel: I'd like to give thanks to Coach Blanc for believing in me my sophomore year. Freshman year, I played receiver and [our former head coach] left. Coach Blanc originally had me listed for receiver when [our current head] coach Kubiak first came in as an offensive coordinator. Later on, there wasn't a spot for me at receiver, so Coach Blanc held a meeting with all the coaches and pretty much told them that I was one of the best athletes at Strake Jesuit and I needed to be on varsity somewhere and somehow. Coach Collier took me in and he showed me the ropes at the defensive back position. I took off from there and I realized I was sharing reps with seniors, which was really inspiring for me since it was only my first year playing the position. I thought, 'if I'm good enough to share reps with the seniors, I could really go somewhere with this'. I got on varsity because of my athleticism and how quick and natural it was for me to pick up the skill sets to play.
Q: What do you think was your best performance of your career?
Denzel: I'd probably give it to the Brazoswood game, because I had two touchdowns. One was a punt return and the other off a fumble recovery.
Q: What were your athletic scholarship offers?
Denzel: There were a lot of offers: Baylor, HBU, Temple, Dartmouth, UPenn, Sam Houston State, Louisiana-Monroe, and Boston College. I chose Boston College because they were genuine. They had been talking to me since the beginning of my junior year. Boston is a long way from Texas, yet the staff members made long trips down here to visit me during the spring workouts and morning lifts. When I went to their camp, they didn't hesitate to offer me a scholarship. So after considering all those things, I felt their offer was more genuine and they actually cared about my success. Also, they have a top-ranked business school, which is what I want to major in.
Q: Best of both worlds, huh?
Denzel: Yeah, it is
Dylan Campbell, the offensive MVP and first team offensive selection for District 23-6A in football, the recent UT-Austin baseball recruit, the school's record-holder for most touchdowns in a game, and the school's most prolific two-sport athlete since Zach Zubia '16, is beloved by Strake Jesuit. Yes, Jesuit still indulges in trace remnants of Matthew Boling's national glory, yet of all the students who play sports at this school—roughly 65 percent of the population—everyone of those athletes has a silent respect for Campbell's dual-sport achievements.