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2020 Man of the Year: Wide Receiver Who Made Catch of a Lifetime

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• December 29, 2020 12:00 pm

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Phillip Blanks spent four years playing wide receiver at Kalamazoo Central High School in Michigan before enlisting in the Marine Corps. Those parts of his life would converge on a tragic July morning in Phoenix.

As a fire closed in, a desperate mother threw her three-year-old son from a third-story balcony. Blanks sprinted barefoot toward the flames and made a miraculous diving catch to save the boy's life.

"As I was running, I see the baby getting ready to be tossed out of the patio," the Marine vet told MLive. "Next thing you know, he’s helicoptering in the air and I catch him."

The boy's mother, Rachel Long, ran back inside the burning building to try to rescue her eight-year-old daughter. Unfortunately, Long succumbed to the fire. But a second hero, D’Artagnan Alexander, a local barber, burst into the smoke-filled apartment, found the young girl, and pulled her from the blaze.

The two heroes told the Washington Post they are now working to help the children's father. Blanks's life-saving catch resulted in national praise as well as a college scholarship named in his honor, which will be awarded to students who have given back to their community.

"Phillip's Marine Corps training and his expertise on the football field proved to be paramount in a selfless act to help save the young boy from the burning building," Kalamazoo mayor David Anderson said of Blanks at an event announcing the scholarship. "Phillip did not hesitate to assist his new community in Phoenix, Arizona, acting swiftly to protect and save lives when he heard desperate calls for help."

Blanks said he hopes the attention his incredible catch has garnered can be used to help the Long family as they fight to recover from the damage done by the fire and the loss of Rachel Long. A GoFundMe for the family has already raised over $200,000.