COLUMBIA — He was ready for most of it.
There were the high school games on ESPN and the state championship game in the Edward Jones Dome. Scrutiny wouldn't be new. Blaine Dalton was a high school superstar, after all. And more importantly, he was a quarterback.
But he wasn't ready for this. This was different. This, he couldn't see coming. He was ready to be a college athlete. But being a college athlete who screws up? That's a different thing entirely.
Just after 11 p.m. April 30, Dalton was stopped by Columbia police and had his car subsequently searched after the officers said they smelled marijuana coming from inside.
The search yielded alcohol and 10 Hydrocodone pills that Dalton claimed belong to a high school teammate who left them there after a visit to Columbia. The incident resulted not only in an indefinite suspension from the team, but an introduction to the Tiger fan base that wasn't the one Dalton had hoped for.
After taking his Blue Springs South team all the way to the state championship game as a senior, Dalton had graduated early in order to arrive on the MU campus for the spring semester and allow himself to participate in spring football. But for all the efforts to put himself in a position to move forward, this was a drastic step back.
And that makes what's happened since all the more impressive.
Dalton was reinstated to the team at the beginning of June after no charges were filed by the Boone County Prosecutors' Staff, and after Saturday's team scrimmage it was announced that Dalton, listed as the third-string quarterback on the team's depth chart, would be getting an increased amount of time with the second-string offense and splitting time with current backup Jimmy Costello. The act of confidence from the MU coaching staff is indicative of how far they've seen Dalton come this summer, and not just in terms of quarterback play.
"It's a little bit of dealing with a high school senior in the spring, which is what he really was," offensive coordinator David Yost said.
"He's grown up. He's matured. You've got to learn from your mistakes. You don't like to make those, but when you do on the football field, or in the classroom or in life, you've got to learn from those things. I think that he's learning that and becoming more accountable for himself."
The climb back isn't a surprise to those who followed Dalton's path at Blue Springs South. He's no stranger to retribution.
In the first game of his senior season, Dalton's Jaguars met the defending state champion Rockhurst Hawklets. Rockhurst ended Blue Springs South's season the year before with a 27-21 victory that kept South out of the playoffs despite the 9-0 record the Jaguars brought into the game. The lead-up to the game was unprecedented. ESPN doesn't show Kansas City prep football too often.
The only thing more extreme than the build up was the let down. Dalton completed 11 of his 32 passes that included four interceptions in a game that was never close.
But it didn't take long for nightmare to become afterthought. South won nine of its next 10 games before meeting Rockhurst again in the state quarterfinals. With just more than eight minutes left in the first quarter, Dalton threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to put South up 7-0, and they never looked back. The team eventually fell in the state championship game to Hazelwood Central, but Yost had already seen everything he needed to.
"I think all of that goes into his makeup," Yost said of Dalton's high school career. "Part of the reason we recruited him is because we thought he had a lot of the intangibles, and the leadership and also the mental toughness in how he does things."
It's that toughness that was instrumental in Dalton working through the circumstances that he was presented with in the spring.
"Being mentally tough is just how I was raised," Dalton said. "That's what my dad always taught me. I just reverted back to it."
"It's just something that you've got to cope with, and it was a tough time for me, and I've dealt with it, and I think I'm better off."
While Dalton's personal resolve was something he knew would help him through the attitude of his teammates was a surprise. Dalton was a just a freshman. He hadn't been in the locker room more than a couple of months. But the support of those around him was unwavering.
"I wasn't really expecting that at all," Dalton said. "To be new here and have their support like that is pretty cool."
"It just kind of made me realize that how much they preach family and sticking with each other and stuff like that, they actually go with that."
Listening to Yost's support of Dalton makes the gesture from his teammates less surprising. Along with the toughness and the demeanor that he covets, Yost says that Dalton takes on a leadership role that can't help but effect those around him.
"He's not talking as much yet as I want him to as a leader, but how he carries himself and does things, he naturally gains the respect of his teammates," Yost said.
"He has an aura about him. It's what he did in high school. It's why he played early and why he was successful. Guys are naturally drawn to him and want to make plays for him."
Dalton is hoping that those qualities, and his play, defined by creativity and an ability to create on the move that has excited teammates and the coaching staff alike, is what will come to define him.
"I'm the type of person that I'm not worried about what other people think," Dalton said. "I know what happened. I was there. If they want to judge me off of that, that's fine. I'm just past that. I'm ready to move forward."
- Right tackle Dan Hoch left practice Tuesday with a knee injury. It was diagnosed Tuesday night as a sprained knee. Coach Gary Pinkel said he hopes Hoch will be able to return in time for the team’s opener Sept. 5 against Illinois in St. Louis. In Hoch’s absence, right guard Kurtis Gregory has moved to right tackle and sophomore J.T. Beasley is now playing right guard with the first team.
- Wide receiver Brandon Gerau was diagnosed with a bruised knee Tuesday. He is expected to be out for about a week.
- After leaving practice with a hip pointer Tuesday, sophomore tight end Andrew Jones was practicing again Wednesday. Near the end of practice he caught a touchdown pass from Blaine Gabbert on a third-and-goal situation.
- Much of Wednesday’s practice was spent working on short passes to running backs. During a quick break between drills, Gabbert threw a ball from the 50-yard line through the north goalpost.
- The team was originally scheduled to have two practices Wednesday. The second session was replaced with a team trip to a swimming pool.