ASHOF calling

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Larry Blakeney will enter his 40th year as a football coach this fall when he leads the Troy University Trojans onto the field.

While the season will in great part be the same as the previous 39, the thrill and excitement he will feel when he leads his team onto the field will be just as strong as it was the first time. The difference for Blakeney is when he leads the Trojans out against Bowling Green to open his 19th season as the Trojans leader, he will have a new title, one that has taken a lifetime to earn – Hall of Famer.

Blakeney will join seven other distinguished honorees this Saturday evening when he takes his place as a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony will be held at the Sheraton Civic Center in the Birmingham Ballroom at 7 p.m. Tickets are available for $125 each and can be purchased by calling 205-323-6665.

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The road to the Hall of Fame for Blakeney started in Gordo, where he played football, baseball and basketball. It was during those years as an impressionable youth when he was struck by the power of athletics.

“I played for a great man, Tommy White, who actually played on coach (Bear) Bryant’s first national championship team at Alabama,” Blakeney said. “Coach White had a great influence over all of us back then.”

But it wasn’t just sports in Gordo that formed his foundation, it was the entire community.

“My mom and dad were great people, and both of them worked, but we were raised well by them,” Blakeney said. “There was always someone else around if we needed them – preachers, teachers, coaches or just older guys in the neighborhood who set good examples. It was a good place to be raised.”

Many of the biggest influences on Blakeney came from his time as both a player and coach at Auburn University. That list starts with legendary coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan, but includes Bobby Freeman, Doug Barfield and Pat Dye.

Blakeney played for Jordan and Freeman at Auburn, the latter as his quarterbacks coach, but Jordan’s coaching style had the greatest impact on Blakeney’s personal coaching philosophy.

“Coach Jordan presented himself as a southern gentlemen, which he was, but he was also tough as nails,” Blakeney said. “He was, in my opinion, an innovative football coach. He was able to change and adapt to his personnel, which is something I think I learned from him. We’ve tried to do that here, to take what we have and make it as good as it can be.”

During his time as a player at Auburn, there was another coach in the state who Blakeney was able to learn from.

“You learned a lot from coach Bryant if you were across the field from him or across from him recruiting,” Blakeney said.

But it was opportunities to beat the legendary coach that stand out as memorable games for Blakeney. In 1969, as a fifth-year senior, Auburn snapped a five-game losing streak to Alabama with a 49-26 victory. Years later, in 1982, Blakeney was on Dye’s staff when Auburn snapped a nine-game losing streak to Alabama in Bryant’s final season.

“I didn’t play much in 1969, but I was on the team and labored through those losses until we won my fifth-year senior season,” Blakeney said. “As a coach, being on the staff that beat coach Bryant to end a nine-game streak was tremendous.”

Between his days as a player and coach at Auburn, Blakeney made an impact as a high school coach. He made three stops over seven seasons and, despite going to two schools with long histories of losing, he never had a losing season.

But, after a second year at Vestavia, he got a call from coach Barfield at Auburn, making his goal of becoming a college coach a reality. He spent the next 14 years at his alma mater.

In 1991, Blakeney got a chance to run his own program and, for the last 18 years, he has been the face of the Troy program. During his tenure, Troy University football has grown from a Division II power, through Division I-AA into a three-time conference championship team in Division I.

“Coaching at Troy University has been the opportunity of a lifetime for me,” Blakeney said. “I’ve been at Troy long enough, and we have changed divisions, that it seems like I have had three jobs here instead of one. Troy is home and has been good to me. Hopefully, I have been good for Troy.”

Blakeney’s record at Troy stands at 144-73-1, ranking him fourth on the victory list among all college coaches ever in the state of Alabama. Only Bryant (232), Cleve Abbott of Tuskegee (203) and Jordan (176) rank ahead of him, and all served as head coach in the state for at least seven more years.

But, before he coaches another game for the Trojans, Blakeney will step up to a podium at the Sheraton Hotel in Birmingham on Saturday to be recognized for what he has already accomplished.

“I hope that I am calm on Saturday,” Blakeney said. “I am a reluctant recipient. I know it is a tremendous honor, but I also know how many people it has taken to put me on that podium.”