Susquehanna Township’s Jaquan Blair celebrated his 23rd birthday over the weekend. It was a celebration drenched in sweat.
The former Indians receiver is working out in his hometown as he awaits a call from an NFL team.
“Just staying motivated is what I do,” he said. “The city really just motivates me, so, I’m just thankful for that.”
It takes a certain type of motivation to work out on a hot afternoon in the middle of May, and it takes a borderline maniac to do all of these drills along the steep hillsides of Harrisburg’s Resevoir Park.
To Blair, it fits the narrative of his football career.
Injuries sidelined him for the first half of his high school days at Susquehanna Township. Once healthy, he helped lead the Indians and earned a spot in the Big 33 game as a senior. His accolades helped land him a spot at the University at Maine.
The uphill climb continued through his career in Orono, seeing limited action until his final two seasons with the Black Bears. Blair finished his career at UMaine this year, catching 57 balls for 748 yards and eight touchdowns in his senior campaign. The captain earned an all-CAA Conference nod.
Career trajectories have been better for pro athletes, but they’ve also been worse. Blair has watched weeks go by since the end of the draft, but has not changed his game plan.
“I’m just thankful to be here but, of course, I’m not done,” he said. “I’m not ready to be done.”
He carries a humble tone when thinking about this tough situation. After battles at the high school and collegiate levels, his latest bout comes against a pandemic-striken NFL, a league largely shut down because of the coronavirus.
The percentage of FCS players to get calls from pro teams is small to begin with. A lack of regional combines and ability to see all of the talent from smaller schools makes finding a home in the NFL even more difficult.
“The virus just throws everything out of whack,” Blair said. “[Teams aren’t] even in the office and facilities right now.”
There’s no telling when the 6-foot-2 pass catcher will be able to catch his break. But, if living with the coronavirus has taught him anything, it’s to be ready.
“No one really cares what you go through,” he said. “[NFL teams care] when it matters the most and when everything is on the line, can you come through and make that play or come through.”
His high school coach, Joe Headen, has seen Blair step up at every level since his days at Susquehanna Township. Now, he watches his former receiver dig and sprint uphill with a similar fervor.
“[Jaquan’s a] great athlete of character, student of character,” he said. “He was always a great teammate and just definitely had a tremendous work ethic.”
Every workout is one closer to his last as an anxious unsigned talent but, as he hustles through his concluding sprint up the hillside, he sees what’s at the top.
“The uphill battle is what gets you ready and prepared to show out when your name is called,” he said. “I know it’ll happen. I just gotta wait for the time to come.”