A loving pair of grandparents and a "second dad" helped pave the road for Steele Blackmon, who lives up to a name that symbolizes toughness and resolve.
The Grain Valley senior defensive lineman moved to Grain Valley when he was 8 years old. His parents soon divorced and his grandparents, Robert and Glenda Spurgeon, took him into their home and raised him as their own.
When he finally arrived at Grain Valley High School, he met his "second dad," in defensive coordinator Pete Carpino, who told the youngster, "One day you are going to be a great leader and a great husband and a great father."
Those words are as fresh in Blackmon’s mind today as they were four years ago in the Eagles’ weight room.
"I was holding the door for some students going in and out of the weight room," Blackmon said, "And Coach came over and told me that I was going to be a great leader and husband and father. No one had ever really said anything like that to me before. I hope he knows how important he is in my life.
"I don’t know where I’d be without my grandparents and Coach Carpino and the Eagles football family."
Did you notice that Blackmon did not call the Eagles a team, he called them his family?
"We never have called each other teammates, we have always called each other family," Blackmon said. "And what is so cool is that my grandparents are part of our family. The guys love them as much as I do."
For more than a decade, the Spurgeons would pay for camps, take young Steele to practices and Saturday morning little league games.
"And they did it because they love me and they loved watching play or practice or anything," he said, laughing. "I can’t tell you how many practices they came to when it was 100 degrees, or the times my grandma and grandpa would sit in their car if it was raining.
"If I was practicing or playing, they were there."
And Carpino is so thrilled that the Spurgeons played such a big role in their grandson’s life.
"Steele might be the most popular kid in our school," Carpino said. "The girls love him because he’s just a big teddy bear and the guys admire him for what he’s done in football and the classroom.
"I remember back when I saw this freshman holding the door for students in the weight room and it really impressed me. I didn’t really know Steele back then, but he has become a very special person in my life and a great player on our team.
"For him to call me a second dad is about the best compliment I’ve ever received."
Blackmon received a great compliment a week ago when he was told he had earned a spot on the Missouri squad for the Greater Kansas City Football Coaches Association’s Missouri vs. Kansas All-Star Game.
Unfortunately the game scheduled for June 11 at North Kansas City High School has been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I would have loved to have played in that game," Blackmon said, "but I have so many things to be thankful for. I’m disappointed, but I am truly blessed."
Now he’s going to give it a go in college.
"I have received preferred walk-on status at Northwest Missouri State University and that is my dream school," Blackmon said of the NCAA Division II power and six-time national champion. "When I visited the campus, I felt like I was home, I felt like I was with my new family.
"And I am going to work so hard to make that team and prove to the coaches and players that I can play at the next level. I love a challenge, and that will be one of the biggest I have ever faced – and I can’t wait."