Mankato West’s Blackstad perseveres through disability

Published: Nov. 12, 2021 at 10:56 PM CST
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MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) — The undefeated Mankato West Scarlets breezed through the Section 2AAAAA Playoffs with a 51-0 shutout over New Prague and 35-0 victory over No. 4 Chaska.

“Everyone does their job, everyone’s fast and physical. Everyone has what they do, and they do it well, and we can all count on each other to just make the play,” senior Gibson Blackstad described.

The Scarlets are putting up video game-like numbers, averaging 45.6 points per game, while ranked second in the state with 41 sacks through 10 games this season.

The defense is led by senior linebacker Ryan Haley recording 42 tackles, 10 for loss, five sacks, and two rushing touchdowns in the last three games.

“We offensively can do some things differently because we know that our defense has our backs,” head coach J.J. Helget said. “We can be a little bit more aggressive, we can go for it. There was one time this year we went for it on 4th & 1 from our own 24 because we just had that feeling that even if we got stopped, our defense was going to be able to stop them.”

Another difference-maker on the Mankato West defense is defensive end Gibson Blackstad, who posted five total tackles and two sacks in the section championship game.

“He’s just been a force opposite of Gannon [Rosenfeld]. Those two guys are two of the better d-ends that we’ve had since I’ve been here.,” Helget added. “The ability for them to rush the passer and just wreak havoc without bringing blitzes just helps our defense considerably.”

Blackstad’s road to starring on the gridiron didn’t come without obstacles. The playmaker is deaf and wears a cochlear implant to help perceive sound on the field.

“It’s hard to hear in the game a lot. Ryan [Haley], my linebacker, does a really good job of telling me what to do and then my d-lineman, I’m also asking like ‘What did he say?’,” Blackstad said.

Even with the implant, it’s still football, which presents a share of challenges on a game-to-game basis, Earlier this season, in a rainy contest against Rochester Mayo, Blackstad took a shot on the helmet, throwing off the magnet in his cochlear implant. But through experience, teammates and duct tape, the senior was able to stay in the game.

“When I was younger, when I first started playing sports, it was really hard. ‘Why am I deaf? Why can’t I be like that?’ But, as you get older you mature, you realize how some things are and you just accept them. That’s what I did, accepted it and became the best player I can possibly be,” Blackstad recalled.

Blackstad’s explosive first step off the edge comes from trusting his eyes, never falling victim to a hard count.

“I don’t rely on what the quarterback is saying, so when the ball is snapped, I don’t ever jump offside, so that’s a good thing,” Blackstad added.

Blackstad continues to answer every question mark on the field, taking on a bigger role as the senior slides into the offensive game plan this postseason.

“He did a great job, he played H-Back. He kicked out the defensive end, and he did a lot of great things to help open holes for Walker [Britz] and we wouldn’t have won that game without Gibson doing that,” Helget stated.

Blackstad hopes to inspire others who may have to overcome similar challenges.

“Being deaf just kind of motivates me a little bit more, just to prove that anyone can have any disability and they can still do anything they want to do,” Blackstad said.

The journey to a program-fifth state championship continues for Blackstad and the Scarlets Saturday at Prior Lake High School for a 3 p.m. kickoff against the Saint Thomas Academy Cadets.

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