- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Cincinnati linebacker Greg Blair had a head-turning 2012 campaign in his first season as a starter, answering all questions about how the Bearcats would replace All-Big East man in the middle JK Schaffer.
Indeed, Blair followed exactly where Schaffer left off, racking up a league-leading 138 tackles en route to Big East first-team honors himself, a year after knee and weight issues limited him to just one game.
But there was a slight problem. Blair was overweight for nearly all of last season, getting as high as 265 pounds -- some 25 pounds more than his desired weight. New coach Tommy Tuberville sat Blair down shortly after arriving in Cincinnati and laid out a new workout and meal plan.
Blair was not surprised. After being granted a sixth year of eligibility, he had already promised himself he would shed weight in order to make himself better.
Now that the Bearcats opened spring ball, Blair already has dropped 15 pounds en route to his target weight of 240.
"I went with whatever he wanted me to do," Blair said in a recent phone interview. "I’m a team player and I know they’re going to be counting on me to make plays. I just kept thinking, 'If I made plays like that last year at the weight I was at, imagine how many more plays I could have made at 12 pounds lighter."
Blair brings up an excellent point. How exactly did he make all those plays last year with a little extra weight on him?
"Physically, I wasn’t where I wanted to be at, but I guess it all fell in my favor," Blair said. "I watched a lot of film on the teams that I played, and that put me in a position where I could make a lot of plays and that’s what I did."
Blair returns as one of the top preseason candidates for Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors after his breakout season, a goal he would love to reach. But Blair also has learned how to stay humble given everything he has had to overcome in his career -- starting out at junior college, working through eligibility issues, knee and weight problems.
"I just feel like nothing else can faze me," Blair said. "I’ve been through so many obstacles in my life that it can’t get worse it can only get better. I have a big faith in God. He brought me through the tough times, starting off at junior college and then the injury when I first came here.
"When I was getting discouraged, I went back to my junior college days. And I just knew I was going to persevere through anything."
Blair has made it, and is now seen as one of the unquestioned leaders on defense, given the way he stepped up in that department when Walter Stewart got hurt last year. His experiences make him a guy that is easy to follow, and Tuberville knows that -- even though he has only known Blair for a few months.
That leadership, coupled with a streamlined look, make Blair a player with the potential to be even better his final season.
"He’s a good football player," Tuberville said. "He can play on the next level. He just had to get his weight down, and he's worked hard at it. I’m excited about what he’s going to do this spring because he’s in very good shape."
12hDavid M. Hale