By Keith Mills
Blake Thompson graduated last month from Cardinal Gibbons High, ending his career as one of the school's most decorated athletes. He was named second-team All-Metro and first-team All-Baltimore City by the Baltimore Sun in football and was also named All-MIAA and All-Baltimore City in baseball while helping the Crusaders reach the MIAA A Conference championship game against Calvert Hall. He also played in the Brooks Robinson High School All-Star Classic at Camden Yards last month and spent part of last summer in Israel as part of a cultural program sponsored by Congressman Elijah Cummings.
Thompson has already begun taking classes at Elon University in North Carolina, where he earned a full athletic scholarship for football. Keith Mills recently touched base with Thompson.
Keith Mills: You're already taking classes at Elon. How is adjustment going from high school to college?
Blake Thompson: College is much different than high school in a variety of ways, from the schoolwork to sports. College is so much more intricate and more in-depth than high school because there are jobs on the line depending on how I perform. I kept hearing college would be a lot like a job. I didn't think too much of it then. All I saw was the glitz and the glamour. But I'm taking a class called Sociology Through Film, and it is the epitome of a college class -- writing notes in class, retyping them that night, reading 40 pages a night, having papers due every week. All that plus lifting and running for football. The things you did in high school are not enough in college. You must go above and beyond the expectations here.
KM: What stands out from your final year of high school?
BT: I take away moments that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I take away the good times, bad times and times when we got in some trouble -- but all in a positive light. Looking back on it, it was the best year of my life.
Baseball season was a great experience. The first day of voluntary workouts there were about 30 people in the weight room working hard with Coach (Matt) Foster. I was amazed. During the previous three years. I had never seen that many people in the weight room on a regular basis working together and working hard to complete a common goal. And that is the exact reason why we went to the championship, through that work from everyone in the offseason.
KM: Any regrets? Anything you wanted to accomplish or experience that you didn't?
BT: There is nothing that I did not do in high school that I would want to change. Before I came to high school, I set goals that I wanted to accomplish. I made every single one of them except one, to make the All-Metro team in baseball. But in the end it really didn't matter. I think I superseded the expectations and proved many people wrong. I did my own thing day in and day out.
I think I left Cardinal Gibbons as one of the most influential people in our class, not necessarily through the things that I said, but through what I did and how I did it.
Everyone saw those extra sprints, extra lifts, extra drills before and after practice and even though I didn't get any recognition for it, it didn't stress me out one bit because I knew I earned everything I got.
KM: You were just beginning baseball when we last sat down for an interview. The team played at a high level and had a great deal of success. What are you most proud of that the team accomplished?
BT: I am most proud of the way the team grew up in just one year. The '08 season was full of ups and downs, but this year we stayed high the whole season. Each bad play we made was followed immediately by a good play. Although I loved all of our stellar plays, my favorite moment was the way we played during the championship game. Although Calvert Hall got ahead early, we held them and began to chop away at the lead. We had many opportunities to take the lead but just couldn't take advantage of them. But the way we held it together on that big of a stage to me was amazing.
KM: You developed great relationships with everyone on the team, especially your fellow seniors (Andrew Park, Nick Grace, Bryan Smith, John Marshall and Robbie Harris). Did that make the last two baseball seasons that much more special?
BT: Of the three sports I played (football, track and baseball) I think that the best seasons I had were my junior and senior seasons of baseball. Not just because of our success, but because of the people that I had the success with. The guys on that team will be lifelong friends because I know I can go to them about anything. They are so inviting, willing to learn and ready to be influenced in a positive way. If I hadn't come back to play baseball then I would have missed out dearly on those people and those teams that made my spring seasons.
KM: You had a fantastic senior season. Does that make all the hard work worth it?
BT: Every extra sprint, rep and jump was worth it, completing what I set out to do when I got to Gibbons at 14 years old. I was a freshman looking up to the seniors and wanting to be as big and strong as they were, and I got there.
And I played not just in one sport but multiple sports. Not many people can say they played in two championship games in two different sports at the high school level. I wouldn't give back any of those Friday and Saturday nights lifting in my basement for anything. That's when I thought I was getting ahead. When everyone was partying and riding around, I was getting better, not only physically but mentally.
KM: How was your graduation ceremony? Your senior class seemed to be very close. Are you going to miss those guys?
BT: Our senior class is a very tight-knit group. One reason was that we only had about 70 people in the entire class. But the one defining moment of when we came together was our senior retreat. We did a lot of things together with guys you normally didn't hang out with. I made new friends that I never had the first three years of high school. And I learned something from each person, who I became closer with as time went on.
KM: How have you changed from when you arrived as a freshman?
BT: First of all I now have a mustache and some chin hairs, which I won't shave now that I don't go to Gibbons anymore. Other then that I think I have matured beyond belief. The one thing in high school I think was a reason for my success was I was able to leave behind the people who were holding me back. [I was able] To create relationships with people who uplifted me and who are working toward a positive goal. That was the big problem at first and took me a long time to get over. Whether it be a girlfriend, friend, coach or teammate, I had to let multiple people go in my life so that I could progress to the big things that I think I was destined to do.
KM: Finally, you're talking to a group of in-coming freshman at Cardinal Gibbons -- athletes and non-athletes -- what do you tell them?
BT: That pretty much everything you go through is mental. Let the little things go and swallow your pride but fight for the big things you want. Stay humble with everything you do, but work hard every moment you get the chance because when you are resting someone else is working to get better. Charles Darwin said: "Life is a struggle, only the strong survive." You don't always have to be the strongest in a physical state, but a mental state. When you think you can't go any longer, you can. The mind believes and the body achieves. Don't let anybody hold you back. If they do then you're holding yourself back from the goals you want to accomplish. Try to experience as many things as possible. I think that's the biggest tool of learning: meeting new people and seeing how they view things to better yourself.
Posted July 20, 2009