At the wise old age of 23, Aaron Blackwell is well aware that his football clock will be running out soon. He’s just not ready to face that finality.
Blackwell, a graduate transfer defensive lineman, said he has is open to returning to the Arizona Wildcats in 2021. That would mark his seventh year of college football, the result of spending time at four different schools, losing nearly an entire season to injury along the way, and benefitting from the NCAA allowing players to count 2020 as a mulligan.
“I’ve been given the option, the coaches here offered me a spot to come back next year, which is something I’ve been considering pretty hard just because this year’s been so terrible because of COVID,” Blackwell said Tuesday via Zoom. “We didn’t really get to have the experience. Most guys talk about you getting your years in, but I came here to play Pac-12 football, I feel like I kind of missed out on the whole Pac-12 experience, just without the fans and the environment. So it’s something I’m going to think about with this month off and really considered.”
Among the things he has yet to experience in his short stint with Arizona: a rivalry game. That changes Friday when Blackwell and the rest of the 0-4 Wildcats host 0-2 ASU for the Territorial Cup.
“This is bigger than some of the biggest games you’ll play all year,” Blackwell said. “This is recruiting talk, this is state talk, for the whole year it’s bragging rights. This is almost bigger than a bowl game in a lot of our eyes.”
Blackwell, one of two graduate transfers Arizona added to its defensive line along with Roy Lopez, has been solid this fall. He’s started three of four games, and though he only has six tackles two were for loss in the opener against USC, and his 6-foot-3, 293-pound frame has helped fill run gaps in the middle of the field.
A Peoria native, Blackwell signed with Weber State in the 2015 recruiting class but left that program after one redshirt season, ending up at Mesa Community College. He played at Mesa for one season, graduated and signed with New Mexico, where in 2017-18 he had 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks while playing for current Arizona defensive line coach Stan Eggen.
Blackwell’s final college season was supposed to be 2019, but a torn ACL suffered in the season opener allowed him to earn a medical redshirt. He completed his undergrad degree, allowing him to transfer again without having to sit out, eventually ending up at the UA.
And now, because the NCAA isn’t counting the 2020 season against any student-athlete’s eligibility, he can return in 2021.
“I had a really weird college experience,” Blackwell said, stroking his bright orange beard. “I’m getting some gray hairs in here so I gotta be careful.”
When Blackwell arrived at Arizona he already had an idea what he’d be doing once this season was over, since it had been in the works for some time. If he decides to return in 2021, he’ll push those plans back a year.
“I’ve got plans on plans,” he said. “I want to travel, I’ve been trying to plan out a big road trip, I want to taste all the food in every state. Food, for me, in general has always been a commodity.”
Blackwell, who describes himself as a closet foodie—“I don’t get on Instagram and post too much, but I’ve got pictures of my phone; if I have a good cheeseburger, I’m taking a Snapchat of it”—said checking out Tucson’s diverse dining options has been one of his favorite things to do when not focused on football and school. He said Baja Cafe is his favorite, and he recommends going there for breakfast.
After seeing the country, Blackwell hopes to use the Master’s degree in entrepreneurship he’s about to finish to start his own business. He said he’s met with venture capitalists and has some ideas, but the pandemic has slowed his progress in that area.
“With COVID and everything now, it’s kind of an uncertain time and what I’ll actually end up doing,” he said.