Granted, we’re only three weeks into the season, but seeing Blake Banham be way up there in the leaderboards is one of the bigger early surprises of the year.
If that name sounded familiar before the season, he was simply recognized as the shorter, stockier running back that was down on the depth chart, but was notably responsible and shifty as a return man. In one phase of the game, Banham has a career 418 rushing yards and his best game was his sophomore year where he picked up 120 yards on the ground and 53 more receiving in beating Central Michigan and only one other game (prior to 2018) where he picked up even 50 yards in either category in a game. But as a returner, he’s had eight games where he had at least 70 kick return yards. He’s not too much of a burner with his feet, but he’s pretty good in open space, which isn’t usually available at running back.
So far, he’s taken zero hand-offs this year.
There were a lot of departures at wide receiver this offseason, which made it a best-case scenario for Banham. Clearly, he’s slid over nicely and the transition is almost seamless, even with new faces at quarterback. Through three weeks of the year, Banham has 23 total receptions (on 25 targets) for 361 yards, which leads the Mid-American Conference in both categories. In the season opener against Monmouth, Banham caught a 16-yard touchdown and had 103 yards receiving. That was followed up with 99 yards on six catches at Purdue, then at Buffalo — nine receptions, 159 yards, one score.
This isn’t all to say that Banham is going to stay atop of the charts because 1. it’s early and 2. it’s September. Like most teams, EMU has played three games this year, but teams like Toledo and Ohio both have not, and those are teams that feature top-shelf receivers in the MAC, too. Anthony Johnson. Diontae Johnson. Papi White. Cody Thompson. K.J. Osborn. Jon’Vea Johnson. Justin Hall. Scott Miller. D’Wayne Eskridge.
But from being a former walk-on that earned a scholarship to being a team captain and wearing “The Deuce” while being an early, leading MAC receiver in his first year at the position — this is all a fairly impressive start to his senior year.