A Mississippi kid born and raised, sophomore linebacker Stone Blanton continued to contribute on defense against the Mississippi State Bulldogs — a team he was formerly committed to.
Blanton recorded four total tackles, three of which were solo, against the Bulldogs on Saturday. He also recorded one pass breakup and one forced fumble, helping South Carolina defeat Mississippi State 37-30 under the lights at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“It’s actually just a crazy moment just being able to prepare all week and play Mississippi State," Blanton said. "They were kind of just my childhood dream team, so it’s really a surreal moment just to come here and be able to play them.”
Blanton grew up as a Bulldogs fan, and his childhood dream came true in January of2020 when he verbally committed to play baseball for the Bulldogs.
In highschool, Blanton was a star athlete, not only on the football field but on the baseball diamond as well. As a senior, he was elected to play in the Under Armour All-America game and led his team to a 2022 MAIS Class 6A state baseball championship.
Nearly two years later in December of2021, he flipped his commitment to join head football coach Shane Beamer and the Gamecocks at South Carolina.
“It was pretty hard to do because I did really like that coaching staff,” Blanton said. “I had a really good relationship with (Mississippi State baseball coach Chris Lemonis) and (Mississippi State football coach Zach Arnett), so that was kind of a really hard decision and hard conversation to have. But they wished me luck. They wanted the best for me.”
When he committed, Blanton originally was planning to play for both Beamer and Gamecock baseball head coach Mark Kingston as a multi-sport athlete before deciding to focus primarily on football.
“It's a big difference," Blanton said. "Usually I'm rolling out of one sport going to the next, so having this kind of time in between where I just lock in on football as an offseason has been extremely beneficial.”
As a true freshman in 2022, Blanton never recorded a start but played in 12 out of 13 games, recording seven tackles and five solo stops. At the conclusion of fall camp, defensive coordinator Clayton White said he was fired up about Blanton and the other linebacker's potential.
"I will say those guys had a very good camp in regards of trying to diagnose plays and read and react, and be guys that are not just big hitters, but guys that understand the game and understands the little details of how to play linebacker. " White said. "Between Stone and Debo, they've taken huge steps."
Blanton has not only started every game this season, but he has recorded three solo stops and a sack against top-rated Georgia as well as a combined 10 total tackles in the first game of the season against UNC Chapel Hill.
Blanton has recorded 20 total tackles in the 2023 season, with 12 of them being solo. Blanton has continued to improve, starting every game this season and getting his first sack of his colligate career against No. 1 Georgia. He has also more than doubled his total tackle count from last year in only four games.
Mississippi State senior quarterback Will Rogers said that Blanton's early success was not suprising.
“I think he plays really hard, and he's very aggressive to the ball. A really sideline-to-sideline player," Rogers said. "He’s from Mississippi. You’re never surprised to see a Mississippi guy succeed."
Blanton and the rest of the Gamecock defense will be looking to continue to improve its performance in Saturday's game against the Tennessee Volunteers. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. The game can be viewed on SEC Network.