GazetteNetMobile

Former UMass tight end Rob Blanchflower excited for pro start with Pittsburgh Steelers

Massachusetts tight end Rob Blanchflower (87) catches a touchdown pass as Western Michigan linebacker Kyle Lark (40) defends during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

Massachusetts tight end Rob Blanchflower (87) catches a touchdown pass as Western Michigan linebacker Kyle Lark (40) defends during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

By MATT VAUTOUR @GazetteUMass
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
(Published in print: Wednesday, May 14, 2014)

Rob Blanchflower knew that being drafted by one of the NFL’s iconic franchises was special from the moment the phone call came Saturday. But it really sank in on Tuesday as he walked through the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offices to meet with a coach.

“It’s such a surreal feeling. Instead of walking through work passing other cubicles, I’m walking to meet with my coach past six Super Bowl trophies,” said the former University of Massachusetts tight end who was selected by Pittsburgh in the seventh round of the NFL draft Saturday. “They’re there every day to remind you that’s the goal and that’s what you’re here to do — win another Super Bowl for the city of Pittsburgh. It’s an unbelievable organization. There couldn’t be a better environment to play in. Working with these people and for these people has been nothing but great so far.”

If Blanchflower wants to help win a seventh Lombardi Trophy for the Steelers, he’ll first have to make the team. Roster spots are far from guaranteed for late-round draft choices.

“I did get drafted, but it’s not 100 percent secure,” he said. “I still have to fight every day and do my best to stay late and get as much studying in as I can.”

Blanchflower had originally planned to go fishing Saturday, but relented and watched the draft at home. Not wanting to jinx his chances of being picked, he convinced his parents, who’d offered to throw a large draft party, to limit the guests at their Leominster home to his immediate family and two high school buddies.

As the draft got later and later, Blanchflower’s phone kept ringing with personnel staff from different teams checking in.

“I was getting so many phone calls from so many teams, but nobody was drafting me,” he said.

Teams would ask Blanchflower what other teams had been calling him or tell him they were interested with their remaining picks. In some cases, teams with no picks remaining would ask him to consider them as a free agent if he didn’t get selected.

He retreated to the basement to field the calls and watch the draft there by himself. Finally a call came with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on the other end telling him he was the 230th overall player selected.

“To be able to say I was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers is a lifelong dream for most kids across America. It’s very surreal right now,” said Blanchflower, who was excited to play for Tomlin. “I really appreciate his coaching style. He’s obviously got a great résumé. I’m really excited to play for him and the Pittsburgh Steelers.”

The Steelers draftees and rookie free agents arrived in the Steel City Monday and Tuesday to get fitted for equipment, meet with medical personnel and coaches.

Blanchflower is treating every moment as an opportunity to improve and make positive impressions.

“I’m taking it hour-by-hour. Not even day-by-day. I’m just trying to do everything right at every moment. I’m just trying to be on time in the right place at the right time and do my best at everything. I can’t even process thinking that far ahead,” he said. “I’m just trying to be as valuable to the team as possible, to be able to fill as many roles as possible. At the end of the day nobody’s job is secure. You have to prove your worth, every minute of every day.”

Proving himself is nothing new. Blanchflower arrived at UMass on a partial scholarship. He had to convince former coach Kevin Morris to play him and he eventually earned a full scholarship

Before his junior year, UMass fired Morris and replaced him with Charley Molnar, forcing Blanchflower to prove himself yet again. He fulfilled the task well enough to not only be a starter and key piece of the offense, but also the team captain. He’s ready to compete again as a professional.

“I’ve always performed best under pressure and proving yourself to a coach is the highest form of pressure you can have in this profession,” he said. “I was never one to study for exams for weeks on end, but I’d study my playbook trying to earn my full scholarship. I’d cram the night before exams and I still got decent grades. The pressure was on in the classroom.

“The pressure was on with Coach Morris and Molnar and now the pressure is on to prove myself to the Steelers organization and fans. Hopefully I can continue to be successful,” he continued. “We’re all fighting for a piece of the pie. There’s 53 guys on the roster. It’s constant competition. My entire life that’s always been a driving force. I’ve always been a very competitive guy. You just try to do as much as you can to make yourself as attractive a candidate as you can. If the job’s not yours, it’s somebody else’s. It’s a very competitive work place.”

Blanchflower is one of five tight ends for the Steelers, a position headlined by two-time Pro Bowler Heath Miller.

“The opportunity to work with and learn from Heath Miller is the experience of a lifetime,” he said. “He’s a legendary tight end and a great guy.”

DIMA A BROWN — Former UMass offensive lineman Anthony Dima signed as an undrafted free agent with the Cleveland Browns.

If Blanchflower and Dima make their teams, they will be rivals. The Browns open the season at Pittsburgh on Sept. 7. The Steelers are in Cleveland on Oct. 12, a day after UMass plays at nearby Kent State.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage