Even James Corum struggles to put his son’s success into words.
He’s asked the question all the time: What’s it like watching Blake? Usually, he shuffles through a slate of buzzwords, calling it a “blessing,” a “joy” and a “dream.” Sometimes, though, he allows himself to think a little deeper.
“At the end of the day, it makes me reflect on everything that he’s done to get to this point,” James Corum told The Daily. “He’s put in a lot of work. People can just hear the story. But I’ve seen it. To see that from four years old to now, it’s just, he deserves it.”
That last thought consumes James during these overwhelming moments of pride. Standing in the Big House, surrounded by thousands of fans donning Corum jerseys and cheering for Blake’s never-ending exploits, watching his son pilot one of the most domineering programs in college football, James thinks back to where it all started.
Blake’s success is borne out of an undeniable, unrelenting work ethic. As an elementary schooler, he performed over 200 push-ups and 200 sit-ups daily in his bedroom. In middle school, James picked up Blake at the end of the school day and drove to the high school, that way Blake could lift with the older kids. In high school, he’d wake up early to box with his trainers before commuting to school.
“I’ve always loved the work,” Blake said on Oct. 25. “… I’ve always had the hard work and it’s never left me. I’m always trying to find a way to outdo someone.”
That mindset was present from a young age. As a seven year old, a prime opportunity arose for Blake to push himself. The Breakfast Club, an advanced level training camp run by Elite Star Performance, hosted weekly Saturday morning workouts. The sessions began with a series of one-on-ones at 5 a.m., followed by position-specific training that lasted until 8:30 a.m.
The Corums hail from Marshall, Va. Without traffic, it’s over an hour drive from Marshall to The Breakfast Club in Bowie, Md. For Blake to attend, he would have to wake up at 3:30 a.m.
“I would tell Blake, ‘If you want to go, you have to wake me up, I’m not gonna wake you up’,” James said. “If you want it bad enough, you’ll wake up at 3:30 on Saturdays and you’ll wake me up. As your Dad, if you wake up, I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”
James didn’t exactly tell Blake the truth – come Saturday at 3:30 a.m., he was already awake. But he needed affirmation; he needed Blake to actually go and wake him. He needed Blake to want it. That way he’d know that Blake was serious about going, serious about working.
“And every Saturday morning, he would come in,” James remembered. “He would say, ‘Dad, you up?’ ”
With that, James and Blake would hop in the car and drive to The Breakfast Club, one of the preliminary, formative steps in Blake’s football ascent.
Blake never overslept. Not once.
That unparalleled drive is the reason why Blake is the nation’s preeminent running back. It has propelled him into legitimate Heisman Trophy conversation, his performances helping to vault the Wolverines into championship contention for the second year in a row.
Blake’s accomplishments have even pushed his coaches into uncharted territory. Jim Harbaugh loathes comparisons – each time he finds himself walking into one, he regrets it, instantly. Recently, though, something different happened: after accidentally invoking a comparison, Harbaugh embraced his slip-up.
“Blake is the best running back I’ve coached in college,” Harbaugh said, smiling. “… He definitely has the license and ability to be every bit as good as Frank Gore.”
Yes, that Frank Gore – arguably Harbaugh’s all-time favorite player. Harbaugh coached Gore for four seasons with the 49ers; Gore was a Pro-Bowler during three of them.
So how did Blake, still in his first season as a full-time starter, reach that echelon so quickly?
Well, to understand Blake, you need to understand James. You need to understand the lineage of the Corums, a self-made, industrious family.
James’s grandfather and father each owned a mason business. In the summer, James accompanied them as they built foundations and chimneys. At a young age, he was especially influenced by his grandfather, who worked nine-hour days and then came home to work some more, tending to his cattle and pigs.
“He was probably one of the hardest working men ever,” James said. “… I kind of just followed in their footsteps. I was like, ‘Man, I want to work.’ It stayed with me. That’s what I was used to, and that’s what I’m still used to.”
Much like the role models before him, James works long hours to support his family. He owns a landscaping business, which he’s operated since 1996. His wife, Christina, started working in a restaurant at 14 years old. Together, they raised four kids.
Following his parents’ lead, Blake wanted to help out at a young age. Starting at the ripe age of four, he accompanied James to the shop and on jobs.
Even when James left Blake at home, Blake’s work persisted.
“One Saturday, I had to leave early that morning to move some equipment to graze some driveways,” James said. “He knew I was at work, so he sends me this video and he’s out in the yard with the ladder, doing some footwork drills, working out. He sends the video, and he says, ‘You work, I work.’ ”
You work, I work. It’s the saying that both James and Blake live by.
That saying, as much as anything else, captures who Blake is. It also explains how he became so dominant.
Chris Forsten – Blake’s first trainer at the Parisi Speed School in Warrenton, Va. – began working with Blake at the age of seven. Right away, Blake stood out above the rest.
“It’s not a normal age where the seven, eight year old actually wants to be there to train,” Forsten told The Daily. “The fact that Blake goes in there and wants to listen, he wants to learn, he wants to figure it out, he wants to get better, that’s far from normal.”
Far from normal, but perfectly Blake. Forsten finds himself having to push most athletes he works with; that’s his job. But with Blake, the roles reversed. Forsten was compelled to deliver a session that pushed Blake to the brink, expanding his capacities.
“Blake Corum decided a long time ago that he was gonna do something great,” Forsten said.
That decision continues to play out, day after day. Not once has Blake wavered on it, even during difficult times.
Two years ago, during the heart of the pandemic, Blake would leave his house at 4:30 a.m. to train with his trainer at 5 a.m. At 2:30 a.m., he would text James: “I can’t sleep, I’m excited to go work out.”
“He just loves it,” James said. “He loves to play on Saturdays, but he loves everything that comes with it. He loves to work out. He loves to lift weights. He loves to get better. He loves the whole process.”
A love responsible for his success.