Tristan Blackmon had a conversation with his coaches at the University of the Pacific after his sophomore season that few forwards have.
Blackmon was asked to switch to right back with an eye on the future success of the new Division 1 program and his individual long-term plan to play professionally.
Although he was a little hesitant at first, he embraced the challenge and became one of the top fullbacks in the nation. His success over the last two years have led to a chance to impress future suitors at the MLS Combine.
“When they came to me at the end of my sophomore year and brought up the fact that they thought I could play right back,” Blackmon told SBI. “I told them I’ll do whatever is best for the team. If that’s where they think that I’ll benefit the team the most, I’ll do.”
“From then on, I just embraced the fact that I wasn’t a forward anymore and I had to do some dirty work on the defensive side,” Blackmon said. “It worked and every day in practice I listened to what they were telling me because I’m still growing at the position. It’s been a great transition and I look forward to developing more at the position.”
“He came to us as a forward and played up front the first two years,” Pacific head coach Ryan Jorden said. “After his sophomore season, we had a conversation about him moving and playing right back and felt like for his individual qualities, development and the team’s success, it would be a move that would make sense for him.”
“He was 100 percent bought in to it and the recognition he’s gotten has been a byproduct of his willingness to make a pretty big change in position and a willingness to really grasp on to that and develop as a player,” Jorden said.
The West Coast Conference Defender of the Year relied on youth experience in the back line to help with the transition, and it’s also a quality that makes him one of the more versatile players in this year’s draft pool.
“I played center back for about three years (at the club level),” Blackmon said. “It helps being versatile to help your team wherever you are. I played left back in a couple games in my college career and I felt pretty good out there as well. I think I could play wherever in the back as long as the team needs me there, that’s what I’ll do for them.”
Not only was Blackmon tasked with the challenge of switching positions midway through his college career, he was tasked with helping build the Pacific program from scratch. He was a part of the program’s first recruiting class and is hoping to be the first Pacific player drafted in MLS.
“I think it was different for a lot of people, but for me, I wanted the team to do so well,” he said. “It’s hard to have high expectations when you’re a first-year team at the Division 1 level. Of course it’s tough and may have had too high of expectations going in because I came from a winning team at the club level so I wanted to come in and win everything. It was rough. “
“It was a great atmosphere and I learned a lot from it just being able to grind the first two years out and then you see what pays off when you invest in the process,” Blackmon said. “We made it to the NCAA tournament my junior and senior years. It was a great experience going there and I’ll never take it back.”
Emerging as a leader and his willingness to do anything for the team that drafts him make Blackmon an intriguing prospect for teams at a position where voids have been harder to fill in the past than other spots on the field.
“It’s good to know that I’ve developed in that position and it’s a confidence booster because I have so much upside,” Blackmon said. “Just to be able to show them my athleticism and what I can do going forward and also one-on-one on the defending side. The combine will be important for me because not a lot of teams have seen me since I’m on the west coast and the West Coast Conference doesn’t have very good film. For me, it’s a huge opportunity to be able to showcase myself.”
His ability combined with the potential to thrive at the next level helped his coaches believe in his switch to right back.
“It’s a position at the MLS level where former American college players get a chance to potentially make a career in,” Jorden said. “Certainly he’s got the tools to do that. I think that was part of the conversation we had that this may be short-term for our team and long-term that it could be the ideal fit for him moving forward.”
Not only is Blackmon excited for what the combine and MLS draft will bring, but he’s also happy he can pave the path for other players at Pacific to follow in his footsteps over the coming years.
“Just in talking to my coaches I can tell how much it means to them for me to get invited,” he said. “To be able to be successful and pave the way for future athletes to come down the line, it would be amazing just to be able to say I helped start that, especially since I helped start the program. It’s an honor to be the person paving the way.”