FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM)--Bulldogs head coach Bill Blankenship and Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente have a relationship that dates back to 1992.
"Well Justin was a sophomore my first year at Union High School in Tulsa. When I got that job he was a freshman actually, moving into his sophomore year. He eventually became a three year starter and was the player of the year in Oklahoma in the 1994 season," Blankenship said.
After he described Fuente as 'very smart', the Fayetteville head coach admitted he was surprised that his former pupil went the coaching route. "And it's probably just lack of awareness on my part, I thought he'd be a CEO someplace. I mean he had all the leadership skills and all the intelligence and I actually thought he was too smart to get into coaching," said Blankenship.
The two have stayed in touch over the years, visiting frequently and even working together last season at Memphis. After Blankenship was fired at Tulsa, Fuente brought him on as an offensive assistant. Blankenship recalled, "He liked to say I was an extra set of eyes and ideas, and I had a good relationship with the staff. So I was just part of the game planning and scouting."
Memphis finished 9-4 under current Denver Broncos backup quarterback Paxton Lynch. That sprung Fuente to take the Virginia Techjob and brought Blankenship to Northwest Arkansas. With the Razorbacks facing the Hokies in the Belk Bowl, it's all come full circle for the two friends.
"It was a little bit of an a-ha thing cause I've really become a Razorback fan here, and I thought 'hey man, what a great game for me to get to watch'. I don't care about everybody else, but for me to have those two teams, this will be a lot of fun," Blankenship said.
Fuente led the Hokies to a 9-4 record and a seven point loss to Clemson in the ACC title game. Blankenship guided the Purple Dogs to a 12-1 record and the school's second straight 7A state title. The Belk Bowl kicks off at 4:30 PM on Thursday, December 29 in Charlotte.