The staff here at Keeping It Heel got together to look back on 2012 and celebrate the top contributors to the athletic program at the great University of North Carolina. Today we will celebrate the greatest achievements in the year that is now behind us and honor those who helped make it memorable. Here we’ll look at our choice for comeback player of the year UNC running back A.J. Blue. Be sure to check back later for the rest of the series where we honor the female athlete of the year, the coach of the year, game of the year, play of the year, team of the year and even the professional alumni of the year. To view portions of this series published so far click HERE.
Blue took an interesting journey and suffered through a ton of adversity to get to where he is at today. In his high school days Blue was a dual threat record setting quarterback at North Gaston High. After graduating from North Gaston in 2008, Blue needed a year at Hargrave Military Academy to meet academic requirements to enter UNC.
Then just six games into his freshman year he tore all three ligaments in his left knee. The injury was so bad that Blue had to be held out of football for 20 months missing the rest of the 2009 season and all of 2010 before returning in 2011. Blue saw limited opportunities in 2011 as he regained his confidence and knocked the rust off from his long layoff getting only 33 carries for 138 yards.
Blue entered this season with an improved from after dropping 20 pounds in the off season in an effort to gain more speed and become a bigger threat in the backfield for Carolina. With star RB Giovani Bernard ahead of him on the depth chart and talented freshman Romar Morris in the fold, nothing was handed to Blue he flat out earned his opportunities and made the most of them.
Blue played in every single game this season for the Tar Heels and played very well as the #2 back behind Bernard rushing for 433 yards on 82 carries for an outstanding 5.3 yards per attempt. He did a tremendous job in the red zone rushing for nine touchdowns and when Bernard was injured in week two of the season Blue came up big with 106 yards and a TD.
Blue has established himself as a strong inside the tackles runner with a nose for the end zone and with Bernard off to the NFL this season he will battle Morris and incoming freshman T.J. Logan for the feature back role this spring. Blue is no stranger to work after spending at least five days a week grinding out tough physical rehab sessions in order to get back on the field after major surgery to repair his knee.
Everybody loves a good comeback story and in 2012 nobody in Chapel Hill had one better than A.J. Blue and I’d like to think the best is yet to come from #15.