Interstate to the NFL: Toledo's Blue attempts improbable journey

Kyle Rowland, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
·4 min read

Apr. 18—Kurt Warner went from the supermarket to the Super Bowl (and, eventually, the Hall of Fame).

The Cleveland Browns literally signed Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi off the streets of Miami.

Could DeDarallo Blue go from an 18-wheeler to 18 tackles?

The former Toledo Rocket was in the midst of his pre-draft plan a year ago when the coronavirus pandemic upended the world. After he went undrafted and unsigned, Blue decided to take a one-year hiatus from football because of the uncertainty.

He enrolled in a three-week commercial driver's license course and went on the road.

"[The coronavirus] scared everyone at first because this had never happened before," Blue said. "The year that I came out to play football at the next level, a wrench got thrown into the plans. It was like, 'Wow, what can I do?'

"I continued to work out, but I wanted to do something with my major. I graduated with a business management degree. I was always interested in the transportation world. Everything is moved by a truck, so I thought it'd be a good idea to get my CDL and see what it's like. Eventually, I'd like to start my own trucking business."

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Blue estimates that he has been to 40 states in the past nine months. He drives for Total Transportation of Mississippi, pulling everything from clothes, soap, soup, and recyclables to FedEx, UPS, Wayfair, and Walmart shipments.

"If it's something you use on an everyday basis, I haul it," Blue said.

From 2016 to 2019, the Tampa native was one of UT's most reliable defenders. He played all 13 games as a true freshman at safety and on special teams, recording 26 tackles. In 2017, he started all but one game, finishing with 36 tackles (5.5 tackles for loss). He had six tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and a pass breakup in Toledo's win over Akron in the Mid-American Conference championship game.

In his final two seasons at the Star position, a hybrid safety and linebacker, Blue had 111 tackles, including 11.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, six pass breakups, a forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. His 70 tackles in 2019 were fourth-most on the team.

"He's a real cerebral kid, so his recall is really good," then-nickel backs coach Ricky Ciccone said as Blue was entering his junior season. "We'll be in the film room and he'll give examples of formations or plays that happened a year or two ago."

Ciccone added: "He's an explosive player. He has explosive hips and he's a big, thick guy. He's an impactful player, that's for sure."

Football continues to course through Blue's veins. He works out whenever possible and has his eye on free agency. Last fall, Blue would listen to NFL games on the radio as he drove from sea to shining sea, living a slice of Americana while yearning for another piece of American culture.

"I had chills running down my body," he said. "I knew I was supposed to be there."

Blue struggled with the decision to participate at pro day because of the coronavirus, ultimately understanding that achieving dreams meant exhausting every avenue.

"I made the best out of it," he said. "It broke my heart, but I had to sit down and think to myself, 'Why did I come this far just to not to do it because of something out of my control?'"

It's not hard to daydream when you're driving 70 hours per week. A 34-hour cool-down period gives Blue time to regroup. His longest trip was from Kettleman City, Calif., to Cranbury, N.J., a 2,891-mile, 43-hour journey.

"I have a whole lineup of people I talk to through the day or night," Blue said. "But I get well-rested each night and make sure I eat a healthy breakfast."

His podcast of choice is I Am Athlete. His favorite states are Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

"It's beautiful out there," Blue said.

Hazardous conditions have included a dust storm, blizzard, ice, and pelting rainstorms. Blue was driving in the Grand Canyon one night and encountered such extreme darkness that his high beams barely illuminated the road in front of him.

The actual driving isn't too difficult. Like riding a bike, according to Blue.

"The hardest thing for me was backing up," he said. "There are no backup cameras. There isn't a window to look out the back of. There's nothing."

Blue looks forward, pondering an NFL future at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

"I'm a worker," he said, "and I'm going to go get it, no matter what."

First Published April 17, 2021, 4:59pm