<
>

Gideon comes a long way

Blake Gideon will never be measured by just one moment.

But for those who only know the number on the uniform and not the man, the Texas senior will always be remembered for a moment in Lubbock.

Three years ago. Jones AT&T Stadium. Seventeen-yard line. Ten seconds left. A tipped ball. A dropped interception. The college football world slipped through his hands.

"It hurt. It hurt to watch. I hurt for him. To see him, he's my son … you could see the heartache."

Ralene Gideon has always been a mother who squeezed, giving love to her son through hugs. That night, as Blake came out of the locker room on crutches -- he had played on a tweaked knee -- she was there with open arms and understanding.

"He handled it a lot better than I did because I wanted to whoop everybody in that stadium."

Steve Gideon, as he had always been, was by Ralene's side. A football coach -- Blake's football coach at Leander -- he wanted to protect Blake, as any father would. The taunts and jabs from the Texas Tech fans tore at him. They didn't know who his son was, what he was capable of.

"There has always been a sort of speaking without words during certain times between Blake and me, this was one of them. He had that look, I'd seen it before during times as these … like he knew what happened, knew it couldn't be changed, knew he would hear about it."

Jacob Vintinner stood back. He was Blake's best friend and a former teammate at Leander. He was a Tech student now, the one in burnt orange who cheered for the Longhorns through that night in 2008. Vintinner sat with Steve and Ralene through the game, and he didn't say a word to Blake when it was over. He knew what Blake could do. What he would do.

"I was going to be nothing but a hindrance to my team to sit there and sulk about it or anything that happened in that game, or whatever plays I should have made. I had to grow up. I had to grow up quick."

Yes, Blake Gideon did hurt, but to wallow in it would be selfish. That's not Blake -- not the man, and not the player.

He indeed had grown up fast. He could catch a ball before he could walk. This was a kid who simply had to run and chase and hit.

"I know his sister was the happiest person in the house when football season came around because that meant she didn't have to be the tackling dummy anymore."

Steve Gideon wouldn't let Blake play football with the other kids. It didn't matter how much he begged. No son of his would be in pads at age 10. He would wait. He would have discipline. He would have proper coaching and respect for the game. He would understand that when he finally did step on the field in the seventh grade that it meant something. It was to be cherished and respected.

"I remember Blake wincing in pain while the doctor examined his hip. I'll never forget. I have never seen someone play through so much pain and with so much heart and intensity. That proved to me that the sky was the limit for Blake."

Jacob Vintinner knew his friend was hurt. During their high school sophomore season, Blake's speed had started to slip in post-practice sprints. Always a leader, he had fallen further and further behind. He never said a word. Finally a coach, his dad, made him stop. Blake had cracks in his L4 and L5 vertebra.

There were eight-hour days spent at rehab followed by nights when Blake wondered whether this injury would keep him from his goals.

"When he was offered a scholarship, what a blessing -- how can parents hope for anything more? What a blessing for Steve and I that we were fortunate enough to be a part of all this."

Ralene Gideon had cancer. When they told Blake in the summer of 2010, he wanted to know what he could do to help win this fight. He was a man now, capable of understanding and compassion.

For three years Ralene and Steve had watched Blake grow into that man. Ralene, the pre-calculus teacher who used to push her son in class, and Steve, the coach who swelled with pride about Blake. They watched as he stayed well past the scheduled time in a visit with a classroom of kindergartners. They watched as he shook hands, made eye contact, answered with "Yes, sirs." They had heard his speeches to athletes about what it took, about how to set goals and why it is so important to never lose sight of them.

They knew their son could handle anything.

"I call him the hammerhead. He can bring the wood sometimes. He hits hard for an old man."

John Harris spent all of the 2010 season on the other side of those hits. The Texas wide receiver was on the scout team, and Blake was on first string. That is where Blake has always been. He has started every game in his career for Texas -- 39 of them. He has been a leader every step of the way.

Blake's senior season has arrived. His family and friends don't dare blink for fear of missing a moment. His opponents spend every moment across from him with eyes wide open as well. Few players have made the impact he has.

"Blake is in the position he is because of hard work long after everyone else has given up and doubted him, and because he just never quits, never settles. I have no doubt he will compete harder than he ever has this season at Texas. The drop in Lubbock was just another obstacle Blake had to overcome.''

Jacob Vintinner knows what lies ahead for Blake and the Texas defense in 2011. Blake is now charged with carrying a young secondary and showing a fan base that he and Texas are better than 5-7.

"He has a passion in learning the game. He is a mentor to me. Every day I look forward to enhancing my game just as much as him."

Carrington Byndom has spent more than a year next to Blake. The Texas sophomore has watched as much as he has listened. He was there last year when Blake bent down at the end of the Texas Tech game and kissed the Jones AT&T Stadium turf. Redemption had been Blake's. His interception had sealed the victory for Texas.

Blake hasn't shied away from the spotlight. Like any good defensive back, his memory is short. None of the young guys ask "What if …" about that moment in his freshman year. They don't have to.

"Sometimes I will share that story. But the main thing I share with the young guys is: As soon as that ball is snapped in that first game they are not freshmen anymore. You have to grow up."

Blake Gideon has done just that.

Carter Strickland covers University of Texas football and recruiting for HornsNation

Follow HornsNation's coverage on Twitter: