There are currently seven former Middle Tennessee State University football players in the NFL. Now, two are on the same team and, in fact, play the same position.
Safety Kevin Byard, who was acquired by the Eagles on Monday, graduated from Middle Tennessee in 2015 and was drafted by the Titans in 2016.
Safety Reed Blankenship graduated from Middle Tennessee in 2021 and signed with Philadelphia as an undrafted free agent in 2022.
"It is a dream come true," Blankenship said. "He is one of the guys I have always looked up to, especially when I got to MT."
At Middle Tennessee State, Byard recorded 318 tackles, 19 interceptions, 15 pass deflections, and four touchdowns in 48 games.
Byard's Blue Raiders' No. 20 jersey was retired last September. His number was the second to be retired in Middle Tennessee State history and the first since 1965.
"He was idolized at Middle Tennessee," Blankenship said. "For what he did in college and with the Titans, it is hard not to view him as a role model."
Blankenship had an impressive five-year career of his own at Middle Tennessee State. In 53 games, the safety registered 419 tackles, 19 pass deflections, nine interceptions, and three forced fumbles.
"I did not get to play with Reed in college, but obviously I kept up with his career," Byard said.
While they never touched the field together at Middle Tennessee State, the two have trained together in the offseason.
Blankenship and Byard spent time together last summer training in Nashville, where Byard played professionally and Blankenship resided in the offseason.
"Knowing who he is outside of football, I am confident he will fit in well here," Blankenship said.
The two have formed a "cool friendship" over the years, per Byard. That will certainly help make Byard's integration into the secondary a little smoother.
Byard's trade to Philadelphia and ability to play with Blankenship in the NFL was something the veteran safety did not think was possible.
"These things happen really fast," Byard said. "I did not really think it was going to be a possibility, but it is definitely cool to play with him now."
Blankenship, who has missed two games with rib injuries (Weeks 2 and 7), is having a strong sophomore campaign. He has 39 tackles, seven pass deflections, and one interception in five contests.
While playing in different conferences, Byard has noticed Blankenship's success over the past two seasons.
"He is a really great young player," Byard said. "He is an instinctual player, a physical player, and really smart. I am going to have to lean on him a little bit, obviously trying to learn the playbook and everything."
Byard will lean on Blankenship to help learn the playbook.
Blankenship will lean on Byard for veteran experience and growth.
With the two partnering in the secondary, the Middle Tennessee State graduates are looking forward to working together and helping the Eagles continue to have success this season.
"Our smarts and anticipation are what is going to help us play well together," Blankenship said. "He is excited, I am excited, and we cannot wait to get this train rolling." – Written by Owen Boyle