SOMEWHERE ABOVE WASHINGTON, D.C. – We're near 33,000 feet, and Justin Blackmon is talking about the week that was.
By any measure, it has been a memorable week, particularly the moment at Radio City Music Hall Thursday night when NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell stepped to a podium and told the world the Jaguars had selected Blackmon No. 5 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.
But Blackmon's not talking about that.
He sits by his older brother, Warren Blackmon, Jr., aboard Jaguars Owner Shad Khan's private plane. This is Friday around 9:30 a.m. Blackmon's talking about a draft-related photo shoot for GQ Magazine four days before. It is, he says, something he never imagined doing, and something he's not sure he'll ever do again.
As he speaks, Blackmon's shoes as are long since off. Wearing NIKE basketball shorts and a NIKE Sportswear t-shirt, he smiles at the memory.
"I'm not GQ," he says, leaning forward. "Trust me."
He holds his hands out, emphasizing his "wardrobe."
"You're going to see me in gym shorts and t-shirts, sweats," he says. "Maybe once in a while you'll see me in something more than that."
The GQ shoot . . . well, it wasn't exactly gym shorts and t-shirts.
"It was a different thing," he says, laughing. "They had me in these tight pants that I couldn't put my legs in. They had me wearing these sweatpants that stopped right here."
He points to his knees, and looks at Warren.
"It was pretty bad," he says, laughing.
This is Blackmon Friday as he traveled from New York to Jacksonville to meet the Jaguars' coaching staff and personnel department and his new city, and this is what he says he's about as much as football.
He is not, he says, a New York, GQ guy. He is about a small group of friends. And he is about family, many of whom surprised him by being at the draft and the closest of whom are aboard the plane. In the front of the plane are his parents – Warren, Sr., a retired lieutenant colonel in the Marines; and Donna, a kindergarten teacher – who met in the ROTC at Prairie View A&M, from which each graduated. Across from him is his 11-year-old sister, Marie Avamarie. The family jokes a lot during the flight, and Justin teases Donna about flying. She's not nuts about it, and she is less nuts about small planes.
What she is nuts about, quite naturally, are her children – not Justin in particular, but Justin, too. Midway through the flight, she tells a story about a video shot of Justin at age 2 or 3, a video she says she had forgotten until a cousin reminded her recently.
"He's running around and I'm introducing him as the next NFL wide receiver," she says, laughing.
Asked about the video, Blackmon rolls his eyes. He doesn't know the video, specifically, but neither does he doubt its existence.
"She's got videos and pictures of everything," he says. "I'm not surprised."
That's what doesn't surprise Blackmon about his mother. Here's what doesn't surprise Donna Blackmon about her son, and it has nothing to do with football.
What doesn't surprise her is his relationship with 11-year-old Olivia Hamilton.
The story of Blackmon and Hamilton has been well-documented. A leukemia patient, Hamilton has undergone 108 chemotherapy treatments in the past four years. They met at a Coaches vs. Cancer basketball game about a year ago, and soon thereafter, when Blackmon was at a hospital visit, Hamilton was there undergoing treatment. When it was time for Blackmon to go visit others in the hospital, Hamilton led the way.
They have been friends since, and on Thursday, she attended the draft as his guest.
"She means a lot," he says. "It's like when I hang out with my buddies. That's a getaway for me. When we hang out, it's like a getaway for her. She's gone through so much. I didn't even know what she had until about six months after I met her. We never talk about her sickness. Her mom will tell me but we never brought it up. Once you meet her . . . she grows on you."
Donna says it's not an unusual story. Not really. As the plane approaches Jacksonville, she tells a story. Justin is in the 11th or 12th grade. On Saturday morning, some children from the neighborhood knocked on the front door. The children, she guesses, were in the second or third grade.
"I had to look down when I answered the door," she says. "They said, 'Can Justin come out and play?'"
Donna says she tried as nicely as possible to discourage the children. She then heard Justin call from his room.
"Tell them I'll be out in a minute."
"I asked him later, don't you have any friends your own age?" she says, laughing. "But that's him. He's always been good with children and people like being around him."
We're nearing Jacksonville, and Donna is asked when the idea of the NFL became something more than a dream.
She cites a time in high school when he wrote down goals. One was to play in the NFL.
Justin says that was always a goal, and that around his junior year of high school it became a real possibility. He started getting recruited, grew about five inches, starting taking weights more seriously. He signed with Oklahoma State, and when Dez Bryant left, Blackmon spent the following off-season determined to do whatever was necessary to show the coaches he could be a go-to receiver.
He did more than that. He caught 111 passes as a sophomore for 1,782 yards 20 touchdowns. He won the Biletnikoff Award for college football's best receiver, and the following year, he won it again, catching 122 passes for 1,522 yards and 18 touchdowns.
He is, by any measure, one of the stars of the draft. He is the player Jaguars fans hope will revive the NFL's lowest-ranked passing offense, and while Blackmon knows this, he says the whole star thing? It may be part of him, but it's just a part.
"I know where I came from," he says.
He says he knows, too, that this week what he is experiencing is once in a lifetime. The week in New York. Draft Night. The plan ride. The GQ shoot. His name being called.
It's special, and Blackmon says he's savoring it all.
"You work so hard to get to this position and now it's finally here," he says. "It's been a dream for so long that it's almost overwhelming, the excitement you have. To have your family here going through it with you – it's just a good feeling. It's a blessing."
It is Friday afternoon now, and Blackmon's day is nearing an end. He is in a suit now, very much dressed for the occasion.
There has been a press conference at EverBank Field, and he has sat on a podium next to Jaguars Owner Shad Khan, General Manager Gene Smith and Head Coach Mike Mularkey. He has met with Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert and toured the facility. He is to meet soon with Jaguars coaches to start the process of learning the playbook.
That, he says, is what's important, more than the travel and the expectations.
"They have high expectations, I'm sure," he says. "I have higher expectation of myself. I push myself. I have self-motivation. I know it's not going to be easy. I'm going to have to work, I'm going to really work hard these next couple of months, get this system down and be ready to go."
In the press conference, he says he is excited. He didn't spend a lot of time reading mock drafts and projections, he says, and he wasn't particularly nervous beforehand. He says he knew anything could happen in the draft, and he says he prepared as such.
"I was just happy to be there," he says.
During a final meeting with a small group of reporters, he is asked about the pressure of being a Top 5 receiver. He says he's not feeling it, that his focus is on his next step, which is to return to Jacksonville for mini-camp a week from now.
"I'm anxious to get in there and see what I get into," he says.
Soon thereafter, he is gone, off to meet with the Jaguars' coaches for the first time – and just as anxious, it is safe to assume, to find his shorts and t-shirt, wherever they may be.