Blakeney (center) w/ Brent White, Mark Pleis
FOR A GUY who amassed a mind-numbing 524 career tackles during his time in uniform, you’d think people might descend upon former Washington State linebacker Lee Blakeney in droves every time he took a seat in the stands to watch his alma mater play.
Not so. He blends into a crowd of Cougs like your standard 50-something husband and father, albeit with a stronger, stockier build than most.
And that’s just fine by Blakeney, who is about as humble a man as you’d ever meet.
But that career tackles total. There is nothing humble about it. When he hit 500 late in his senior season of 1984, head coach Jim Walden likened it to a running back eclipsing 4,000 yards.
To put his tackles total into perspective, consider that no other Cougar in the history of the program is closer than 84 tackles to him. When he graduated, the then- No. 2 man on the list, Tom Poe, was nearly 200 tackles back.
Blakeney stands as the seventh-most prolific tackler in Pac-12 history.
“I was just lucky,” he said, deflecting credit for the accomplishment to the fact he fell into a starting position as a true freshman.
When he arrived on campus from Concord, Calif., in 1980 after choosing WSU over Cal, UCLA and others, he hoped for some PT while learning the ropes and acclimating to the speed of the game. He was young, raw, and inexperienced.
And then fate stepped in.
An incumbent starter was declared academically ineligible, and the 6-1, 228-pound Blakeney was thrust into the starting lineup just prior to the season-opening kickoff against San Jose State.
He said he “didn’t really know the defense,” so he just “went and played some football.”
Blakeney finished that game with 19 tackles, and never looked back. He led the team in tackles that season with 129. The next year he did it again, posting 130. He sat out the 1982 campaign with an injury, but came back in ’83 to post 112 stops and, for his swan song, he collected 153 tackles in ’84.
“I get online now and then to see if anyone is in the running,” Blakeney says of his tackles record at WSU. “I think it’d be great if somebody broke it. I mean, the record is obviously a pretty cool thing for me, but I wouldn’t mind if someone broke it. That would mean they’re doing it the right way.”
It’s been nearly three decades since Blakeney played his last game for the Cougs, and the record is more than safe. Deone Bucannon needs just two tackles on Saturday against Idaho to pass Ron Childs and enter the career top 10 for total tackles – and he’ll still be more than 200 shy of Blakeney.
“It was a great time,” Blakeney says of his college days in Pullman. “Some of those times are things you’ll never forget.”
The 1981 team came within a whisker of a Rose Bowl berth and wound up in the Holiday Bowl – WSU’s first bowl game of any kind since the 1931 Rose Bowl.
“That Holiday Bowl was a really big thing,” Blakeney said. “Gettin’ the Cougs back to a bowl like that was special. We had all worked so hard for that opportunity so it felt great. It meant something.”
The 1983 and ’84 teams were also stout. The ’83 club went 7-4, winning five straight at the end and prompting UW’s Don James to declare them the best team in the Pac-10. No bowl game awaited, however. The ’84 Cougs finished 6-5, but were literally four plays away from being 10-1.
After WSU, Blakeney had a cup of coffee with the Atlanta Falcons, but eventually ended up tackling crime as a police officer in Georgia for almost a decade. He’s been in Atlanta, as part of Coca Cola’s corporate security team, for more than 25 years and says the job has given him opportunities he never thought possible.
“I’ve been to every Olympics since 1996,” Blakeney said. “It’s really a good time. I really enjoy where I’m at right now.”
Blakeney has been married for 25 years and has a son. He said he plans on coming up to the Palouse this season for at least one game, where he’ll meet up with old teammate Charlie Flager and possibly Brent "Sparky" White, too.
Oh, and as for that record of his, it appears to be set in stone for at least awhile. Third-year Cougar sophomore linebacker Darryl Monroe would have to average almost 14 tackles a game for the rest of his career in order to match Blakeney’s output.
So sleep easy, Lee -- this one’s all yours.