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Given a chance with Bears, Blanchard didn't blink
 

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Given a chance with Bears, Blanchard didn't blink
  • Matt Blanchard has made the leap for NCAA Division III standout to Bears prospect.

    Matt Blanchard has made the leap for NCAA Division III standout to Bears prospect. Photo courtesy Wisconsin-Whitewater

  • Matt Blanchard

    Matt Blanchard

 

The quarterback delivered. Not a pass, nor card, nor bouquet. Rather, a text message.

Hallmark couldn't have topped it.

Story Continues Below

Matt Blanchard, the former Lake Zurich Bear, was about to become a Chicago Bear.

He was at Halas Hall last Sunday when he realized he was going to be detained. His family would have to start celebrating Mother's Day without him.

Unable to talk on his cellphone, he texted his parents, Steve and Peggy, and big brother, Derek. Matt had just completed a long weekend trying out for the NFL team for which he's rooted for since he was much smaller than the 6 feet 3 and 225 pounds he is today.

Blanchard's text message: "Might be a little late coming home.

"The Bears want to sign me."

Mom Peggy surely understood.

"It was a great Mother's Day present, that's for sure," Blanchard said with a laugh.

On the Sunday following the NFL Draft, after having not been selected in any of the seven rounds, Blanchard got a phone call from the Bears. Regional scout Jeff Shiver invited Blanchard, who quarterbacked the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to its third straight NCAA Division III championship last fall, to the team's rookie minicamp. Former Indiana State quarterback Ronnie Fouch also got an invitation.

"Both of the guys did some good things," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Quarterbacks have an opportunity. They know they're going to get a chance to throw the ball and prove what they can do, and again we did take notice."

After three practices, the Bears offered three-year contracts to seven of the 34 non-drafted players they had in camp. Blanchard snagged one of the deals.

"I feel like I went out there and performed really well," Blanchard said. "It's one of those things where it's such a short period of time to learn an offense and go out on the field and execute it. That's really all I was trying to do, and I feel like I did that to the best of my abilities. I felt great. We obviously had great receivers to throw to, who were making outstanding plays. It was a great experience and great opportunity for me to show the Chicago Bears what I could do."

Among the wide receivers catching Blanchard spirals was second-round draft choice Alshon Jeffery, a 6-3 target out of South Carolina.

A Bear says Bears fans should be excited.

"Alshon is an incredible talent," Blanchard said. "You can just throw it to him one on one or seven on seven. He's got incredible range, incredible size, great hands, great route-running ability. Everything you want in a star receiver, he's got. It was a great experience to throw to him for those three days, and now I get to throw to him just a little longer."

Maybe a lot longer.

But Blanchard is realistic. For now, he's just part of the 90-man roster. The Lake Zurich resident knows he's still a long way from earning a spot on the eventual 53-man roster. Counting Blanchard, the Bears have under contract five quarterbacks. The others are Jay Cutler, fellow veterans Jason Campbell and Josh McCown and last-year's fifth-round pick, Nathan Enderle.

"Honestly," Blanchard said, "I was going into rookie mini camp thinking, 'Just go out there, play your best and put your best foot forward, and hopefully things can work out for you -- if not with the Chicago Bears, maybe another team.' Luckily, the Bears liked what I was doing. Things worked out with them, and they gave me a deal."

Since graduating from UW-Whitewater last December with a degree in physical education, Blanchard has been preparing to prove to pro football personnel that he's the real deal. He worked out in Tampa, Fla., to train for the Players All-Star Classic in Little Rock, Ark., and then went back to Florida afterward to get ready for his pro day at UW-Whitewater. If professional football isn't in his future, he wants to teach and coach.

"That's a huge passion of mine," he said of coaching. "I want to make football my life's work."

Blanchard has been at Halas Hall all week with fellow rookies and, now, veterans who are participating in voluntary offseason workouts. OTA's start May, and rookies like Blanchard are welcome to participate in those, too.

"It's pretty cool," Blanchard said. "We're part of the team now."

There's Brian Urlacher. Over there, Lance Briggs. The huge guy who runs like a gazelle? It's Julius Peppers. Charles Tillman? You might try, "Mr. Tillman," before calling him "Peanut."

"It's definitely a bit overwhelming at first," Blanchard said. "You see these players that you watched on TV for the last several years, not just the last couple of years. A lot of these guys have been in the league for a long period of time. You're a little awe-struck at first, but you become desensitized to it because you have to. You realize you're trying to compete for a job."

Cutler, nor any other big Bear, has said much, if anything, to the new kid.

"For a rookie, it's more, 'Be seen and not heard,' " Blanchard said. "You keep your head down, and when you get your reps, you try to make the most of them. The vets have been around for a long time. You got to respect them."

Blanchard was a finalist for the Gagliardi Trophy, D-III football's Heisman. He earned All-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference honors in 2010 and 2011. As a junior, he completed 72 percent of his passes for 2,132 yards, 21 touchdowns with just 1 interception. Last fall, he connected on 69 percent of his throws for 2,852, yards, 23 TDs and 4 picks. Over the three-year period Blanchard played for UW-Whitewater, the Warhawks went 45-0 overall, amassing the longest win streak in college football at any level and the fifth longest win streak in NCAA football history.

Got to respect that.

Now it's time for the QB to keep delivering.

jaguilar@dailyherald.com

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