Charlie Chandler pulled into the parking lot of C4 Explosive Sports Training in the dead of night. It was 3:50 in the morning, but he was already late.
Blake Corum stood by the facility’s doors, awaiting Chandler’s arrival so the pair could commence a workout slated for 4 a.m. Early morning sessions became a staple of Corum’s high school schedule — between a 90-minute commute, school, wrestling practice and football practice, working out before school was the only way Corum could train twice a day.
So, while the rest of his teammates slept, Corum pushed and pulled sleds with almost 1,000 pounds of weight piled on top.
“There were never any excuses,” Chandler, the owner of C4 Explosive Sports Training, told The Daily last week. “It was always, ‘When can we get some work?’ (People have) always said, ‘He’s not tall, he’s not the biggest guy.’ But, he’s trying to outwork everybody, be faster, be smarter. Anything he can do to get an edge, he’ll do it. We’re in there freaking boxing sometimes.”
The countless early morning training sessions have long paid dividends for Corum, a former 4-star recruit and 2019 Gatorade Player of the Year in his home state of Maryland. Now, a month into the 2021 college football season, the national landscape is beginning to take notice of his exploits.
Through three games, Corum has emerged as one of the nation’s premier running backs. His eight total touchdowns lead the FBS, while his 407 rushing yards rank third. Both figures could be even higher, but lopsided scores in each of the Wolverines’ first three games have carved into Corum’s playing time, as has the fact that Corum splits carries with senior Hassan Haskins.
“Blake Corum, special player,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said on Saturday, offering unprompted praise after Corum ran for 125 yards and three touchdowns against Northern Illinois. “The way he trains in the offseason, it’s all-out, all the time. His endurance, his strength, he’s like a stalker finding ways to get in the weight room. Door is always open, finding ways to get stronger, get better. From the day he arrived on campus, it’s a tremendous example of somebody who has an amazing work ethic.”
Corum’s success didn’t materialize in a day. His 601 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns are byproducts of an unrelenting dedication that has defined Corum from the onset of his athletic career.
Bill Whisenant first met Corum at a peewee football game, when the latter was still in elementary school. Corum grew friendly with Whisenant, a high school strength and conditioning coach for over 30 years; in short order, he established himself as a regular at Whisenant’s training facility.
Whisenant views middle school as an appropriate age to begin easing kids into a training regimen. At that age, the particular emphasis is generally technique, with drills commonly geared towards basic agility, balance and stability.
Corum quickly separated himself due to his “inner fire,” which Whisenant calls a “particularly unusual thing for a kid in middle school” to boast.
“When I began to work with him, I knew he was going to be something extraordinary because of his work habits and the attitude he has about work,” Whisenant said. “It wasn’t, ‘We have to do this.’ He was perfectly willing to be challenged.”
That mentality stems from Corum’s upbringing. Corum’s dad, James, runs a lawn and landscaping business; all the way through high school, Blake would build time into his schedule to assist his dad. The pair abide by a saying: “You work, I work.”
Corum applied that mantra to his athletic career. In addition to Whisenant, he sought a number of different trainers and strength and conditioning gurus. Beginning in middle school, he worked with Kevin Johnson, the CEO of Team Ascension training, placing an emphasis on biometric explosive training. In ninth grade, he started frequent sessions with Raymond Washington at United Sportsplex, focusing on core strength training along with explosive training. Later in high school, he joined Chandler’s gym.
While a bulk of Corum’s training included 1-on-1 instruction, he participated in group sessions, as well. With Whisenant, Corum would work alongside 30 to 40 other kids his age, many of whom had no intention of participating in competitive athletics. Needless to say, he turned some heads in the weight room.
“It’s a little bit of a shocker to watch him if you’re just a regular kid out there with your buddies,” Whisenant said.
All four trainers recounted similar tales of Corum’s unparalleled motor, their voices still tickled with awe. Once, Johnson says, Corum threw up, a result of something he ate not agreeing with his stomach. Yet Corum, all of 14-years-old, refused to quit, powering through the rest of the session.
Washington remembers laughing when, at the end of each drill, Corum would ask for more: more weight, more movements, more time. His persistence evolved into a running joke.
“Saying, ‘Hey, you need a rest,’ that’s not in his vocabulary,” Chandler said. “He will compete, crawl out of the weight room.”
Beyond the anecdotes, each trainer stressed a similar narrative. No one wanted to take any credit for the player Corum has become, instead maintaining that their role was merely complementary, nothing but a piece to a greater puzzle. Corum is the force behind his own transformation.
“If I said come six days a week, he’d say, ‘I can come seven,’ ” Washington said. “He’d be two sessions a day, one with me and then another with someone else. He wanted to work, wanted to make sure he was the best.”
Added Whisenant: “That level of work, working exceptionally hard, having those habits, it’s just normal (for him). It’s not patting him on the back for it. That’s the way he operates. That training is just a normal thing.”
When Corum first showed up to Johnson’s facility, Johnson was training Ahmad Brooks, then an All-Pro linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, and Da’Shawn Hand, a defensive tackle who ranked as one of the nation’s top high school prospects.
“And Blake would damn sure work,” Johnson said. “He was coming in with a group of really talented guys and proving his merit every time. He never let them deter him from coming back and answering the call.”
Corum similarly impressed when working with Washington’s crop of professional athletes.
“It’s hard to keep up with Blake Corum,” Washington said. “We’re talking NFL players, CFL players, guys who were at levels he’s not even at yet. He’s pushing them. And these guys, they’ll compete, too, not to take anything away from them. But Blake’s the guy who’s like, ‘let’s do more, let’s do this.’ ”
That attitude is increasingly apparent at Michigan. In fall camp, when prompted to name the strongest player on the team, sophomore linebacker Nikhai Hill-Green wasted little time delegating the honor to Corum. When reporters asked Wolverines’ running backs coach Mike Hart if Corum reminded him of himself, Hart quipped: “He works a lot harder.”
“Blake is one of those guys, you want to slow him down because he’s always going, going, going,” Hart said. “He works his tail off. He’s one of the hardest-working running backs in the room.”
Corum may have traded 4 a.m. boxing sessions for a home inside the Schembechler Hall weight room, but he’s maintained his mentality.
“That kid, he’s earned everything he gets,” Johnson said. “He’s not an overnight success.”