Bland shines at Future Stars game

D.J. Bland follows through on a practice punt during the event. Despite going into the game as a cornerback, Bland had previous kicking experience which the Georgia team used to its advantage.

PHOTO: Contributed

By Brandon Bush

brandon@msgr.com

 

A young local athlete recently had a strong showing among some of the nation’s best.

Darrell “D.J.” Bland Jr., of Putnam County, was one of 30 seventh-grade football players selected from the state of Georgia to compete in the Future Stars game, a national middle school all-star game that assembles teams made up of star athletes from across the state. Bland took part in the program’s eighth annual Florida-Georgia game, competing against the Florida seventh-grade team.

Taking place at Florida Atlantic University in early June, participants in the camp got a chance to interact with college coaches, players and recruits. Potential participants were required to demonstrate their abilities at a Future Stars-sanctioned camp in order to be invited. Bland took part in such a camp and earned one of the fastest 40-yard dash times of the day. He also competed in several other events such as the Youth Pro Bowl and Diamond All-American Game.

Although Bland was listed as a cornerback going into the Future Stars game, his second consecutive year attending the game saw him take on additional roles: playing wide receiver and kicker.

“When we got down there, we found out that they didn’t have a legit kicker or punter,” said Bland’s father, Darrell Bland Sr. “So, D.J. had to be the kickoff guy while also playing receiver and cornerback.”

Bland Sr. went on to say that his son could have also punted during the game but another participant was used in order to make sure everybody had a chance to be in the spotlight rather than Bland taking on so many positions.

Bland even made a couple of highlight reels, including the prestigious “Born to Compete” highlight, for a particular kickoff during the game when he booted one high and deep, resulting in the first of two back-to-back fumbles, which led to an early score for the Georgia team.

This was not the first time Bland has kicked before. He previously served as the kicker in the Youth Pro Bowl and Diamond All-American games, which are impressive feats considering most middle school football leagues put much less emphasis on kicking.

Bland Sr. thinks his son’s versatility will be useful to him as his career goes on.

“People will be able to see that he is not just a one-position player,” Bland Sr. said. “I guess you could label him as an ATH (athlete, or multi-position player). It will help him down the road because he can be used for a lot of things. Cornerback, receiver, kicker, punter, they even tried having him kick extra points, which he’s never tried before.”

Although Bland typically plays cornerback and receiver in all-star games, he serves as quarterback for Putnam County Middle School. Last season, he was the first seventh-grader to start for PCMS in several seasons as well as the only one in his grade to start last year.

Bland was also recently invited back to the Diamond All-American game, which features the top 100 athletes in his age group. Bland felt that the game was a good experience for him and that he was happy with his performance.

“The game was great,” Bland said. “I think I did well. It was awesome to make a ‘Born to Compete’ highlight reel. It felt good that they believed in me to kick for them, too.”

Bland added that he feels good about his upcoming season with the middle school team, and he believes he will be better than he was last year thanks to the hard work he’s been putting in.

Bland wasn’t the only local player to make the trip to Florida Atlantic. Fellow cornerback Jalon Kilgore, of Baldwin County, was also invited to the Future Stars game. Kilgore, who played alongside Bland on the Georgia Youth Football Conference champions Baldwin Bulldogs, had the best shuttle time for both Georgia and Florida athletes during a Future Stars camp, which helped him get invited to the event.

Both Bland and Bland Sr. expressed their gratitude to everybody who has supported them, including the Kinderhook Fire Association, the Putnam Sportsman Club and everybody who has helped with fundraising. Bland is a member of God of Peace Ministries.

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