By GEOFF FOX
The joy in Travis Blanks’ voice was obvious.
He had recently returned from scenic Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where he went on a honeymoon with his new wife and college sweetheart, Chandler. The couple married on June 25, 2016.
Back home in Clemson, South Carolina, he spoke as he took a lunch break from his new job as a mortgage loan officer at Oconee Federal Bank, where some customers recognize him instantly.
Less than a year earlier, Blanks was a star linebacker for the University of Clemson Tigers football team that made it to the national championship game, where it lost to Alabama, 45-40, in an instant classic.
Although Blanks had always dreamed of playing in the NFL, the 22-year-old said he is perfectly content.
“It was tough not realizing my dream like I wanted to, but I have a great job; I have a degree and I met my wife,” he said. “I’m not really walking around with any disappointments.”
Blanks’ positive outlook has always been an asset. At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, he was considered too small to be an impact player for Clemson, but he proved critics wrong.
In his senior year, he registered 43 total tackles, made several stops against rival Florida State University and played with fiery determination in the championship contest. He accomplished that after sitting out his junior year with a knee injury.
While Blanks’ personal drive has never been in question, he has had help along the way.
Since the closest neighborhood high school had low graduation rates and a floundering sports program, Hutto, a single mother of four, pursued the scholarship. Her application was accepted and Blanks spent his high school years at North Florida Christian.
The school became something of a haven for Blanks, whose father was in prison during his time there.
“It’s a Christian environment,” Hutto said. “They teach kids about the Bible and religion, and it’s a very tight-knit group of people. They’re very supportive. It’s smaller than a regular public school, so we thought it would be fitting for him.
“He was able to meet some very good people who helped shape his future.”
Pastor Randy Ray, who has been at North Florida Christian for about 25 years, was one of those people.
“Travis is one of the most exemplary students we’ve had; he’s in the Top Five,” Ray said. “First of all, he was a good citizen. You’re not a good student unless you’re a good citizen. He was a great athlete and all kinds of things, but we’ve had a lot of great athletes.
“He was a part of our community. He loved it here, and we loved him. He was serious about what he did, but he didn’t take himself too seriously. He had a gift of doing things well, but he could laugh at himself if things didn’t go perfectly.
“Step Up allowed him to be a part of our community,” Ray said.
When Blanks earned a football scholarship to Clemson, the family – including an older sister and two younger brothers – moved to South Carolina to be near him.
A commercial insurance agent with BB&T, Hutto has since relocated to Fort Myers and is planning to apply again for Florida Tax Credit Scholarships for her 15-year-old twin son and daughter.
While Blanks said he has left the gridiron behind, he is realizing other dreams.
His recent wedding to Chandler, Hutto said, “was beautiful.”
“They’ve been together three strong years, during the most difficult times of their lives – at college,” she said. “It was a gorgeous time for two gorgeous people.”
Blanks also is settling nicely into his new career.
“No matter what kind of job you get, they’re going to have to train you to do what they want you to do – even if I had a finance degree,” he said. “I know how to interact and talk to people, and meet their needs.
“I’m just trying to provide for my wife, but I love my job. We’re a community bank, so I get to have a personal relationship with my customers. I’m dealing with people, not just sitting around in a back office somewhere.”
By TRAVIS BLANKS, Guest blogger
My name is Travis Blanks. I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself, and how the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship helped me realize my dreams.
A year ago, I was a linebacker for the No. 1 ranked Clemson Tigers football team that made it to the College Football Playoff Championship game against Alabama. While we didn’t win, the game was considered an instant classic. We only lost by five points, and I’m confident Clemson will have another successful season this year.
After the season, I declared myself eligible for the National Football League draft. While I was disappointed not to be selected by an NFL team, I am hardly bitter.
In fact, I’m as happy as I’ve ever been.
I married my fiancée Chandler in June. Our honeymoon in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, was absolutely beautiful, and helped me unwind before I embarked on a career.
At Clemson, I earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology. I was able to use the degree to secure my new job as a mortgage loan officer for Oconee Federal Bank in Clemson. I honestly love the work and enjoy interacting with people and helping them meet their needs.
I remember well how others helped me during my own times of need.
As I prepared to enter high school, my mom, a single mother of four, worried about me attending the local public school, where graduation rates were low and the sports program was floundering. She wanted me to be well-prepared for college and to avoid as many distractions as possible.
Fortunately, administrators at North Florida Christian School in Tallahassee told my mom about the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship administered by Step Up For Students. She applied for the scholarship and I was accepted.
I had always been a diligent student, but at North Florida Christian, I absolutely thrived. The school fosters a tight-knit Christian environment, where the teachers were extremely supportive and the class sizes smaller than those I experienced in public school. I felt more like part of a family.
At North Florida Christian, teachers and administrators also focused on helping students become good citizens. They helped shape my future and brighten my worldview.
Might all of this have happened for me without the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship? Maybe. But, I would not have been able to attend North Florida Christian, which I still visit whenever I can.
To me, the scholarship was invaluable.
My mother agrees. After recently moving back to Florida from South Carolina, she hopes my brother and sister, 15-year-old twins, will also qualify for a scholarship through Step Up.
I sincerely feel the best way to say thanks is to make sure other children are given the same chance. Everyone deserves an opportunity for success, no matter their family’s income level.