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Matt Blanchard Shines in Starting QB Debut

Former Lake Zurich Bear good for three touchdowns.

As Lake Zurich Bears fans recall, Matt Blanchard was the senior quarterback on the team when they won their first Class 7A state championship in 2007.

Now, he's still throwing the ball and achieving success at the college level.

After graduating, he enrolled at Northern Michigan before transferring to Division III University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he spent two years as a back-up quarterback to Jeff Donovan, the WIAC player of the year last year with 27 touchdowns and a 72 percent completion rate.

With Donovan having graduated last year, Blanchard wasn't necessarily a shoo-in to succeed him as the starter; after missing a significant amount of the conference portion of the season last year, he still had to win the job this year.

Any doubts about Blanchard being the right choice were resoundingly put to rest after the Warhawk's 35-0 thrashing of Adrian, Mich. in the season opener on September 4.

Blanchard passed for 289 yards with two touchdowns. He also rushed for 46 yards and another touchdown, demonstrating his mobility as a rushing quarterback.

"He's had to learn to be a pocket passer," said Matt's father, Steve Blanchard. "He's worked really hard at his passing game. Rushing was never a problem."

In the game against Adrian, Blanchard started with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Adam Brandes with 11 minutes and 37 seconds left in the first half. He also connected with Brandes later in the game for another touchdown.

"My wife and I saw a kid who was picking up the reads real good when we watched him in several pre-season practices," the elder Blanchard said.

What his father witnessed was obviously a good omen, as it's clear that Blanchard was able to pick apart Adrian's defense.

"He actually got whacked pretty good early in the game, and I think that actually helped him," his father said. "He was blindsided by the linebacker and didn't see him coming. I think he realized after it happened that, okay, it's time to play football."

There's a surplus of talent in the Blanchard household.

Matt's brother Derek, who also played for Lake Zurich, went on to play at Division III Mount Union, Ohio, where he set a record by playing in 55 consecutive games.

He was a starter at left tackle his freshman year and started every game through his senior year, when he was also a finalist for the prestigious Gagliardi trophy.  After spending last season at Ball State as a strength and conditioning coach, he's now an assistant coach at Stevenson High School, ironically one of Lake Zurich's biggest rivals.

Matt Blanchard didn't start playing football until his freshman year in high school. 

"I had played soccer  in eighth grade, and my brother was going into his senior year  at Lake Zurich and he was on the football team," Matt Blanchard said. "So that influenced me."

Blanchard said one memory from his time at Lake Zurich High School most stands out.

"Definitely our first semi-final game against [Mount] Prospect the year before we won the title," he said. "The whole town was into it. It was a special time and the first time where it really hit me personally."

He credits head coach Bryan Stortz, who won the state championship in just his second year, for his development.

"He had a huge impact," he said. "He's also a math teacher and coached me in freshman basketball. Discipline was instilled in a way that was different when he became coach, and also because of several of the assistants."

While many view Stevenson as Lake Zurich's biggest rival, Blanchard said he believes that it's actually Libertyville, explaining that his senior year was just the second year that they were in the same conference as the Wildcats.

"They had won a couple of state titles, so we were more aware of them, and aspired to have as successful a program as they did," he said.

How difficult was it for him in transitioning from being a high school quarterback, where rushing is often more important than passing, to a college quarterback, where passing becomes a much larger part of the team's playbook?

"You go from playing an option-style offense in high school to a whole different level in college," he said. "I transferred here (UW-Whitewater) from Northern Michigan, so when I arrived I had a new system to learn. Each level changes and the game gets faster. Here in college you have the cream of the crop from high school, and in the pros you have the best of the best from college."

Blanchard was fortunate to play behind starting quarterback Jeff Donovan, who put up some amazing numbers last season.

"You want to play," he said. "But it was very rewarding sitting behind Jeff. The worst thing you can do is compare yourself to another quarterback. Each quarterback is different. It's great that I can talk to Jeff on the phone and go over things with him."

Now there are different teams that are circled on his schedule as especially challenging adversaries.

"Both UW-Stoughton and Stevens Point, and anyone else in the conference," he said. "Those are the games you look forward to the most."

Having just played his first game as starting quarterback at UW-Whitewater, Blanchard remained a cool customer. Leading up to the game he said he was pretty calm all week and in pre-game.

"You always have butterflies before a game, but it really hit me when our offense ran out on the field, and I thought 'OK, this is it—let's do it,'" Blanchard said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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