Phillip Blanks has been preparing his whole life for the harrowing encounter he had last week.
The 28-year-old former football player and U.S. Marine has gained national notoriety for rushing over to a burning building and diving to catch a falling 3-year-old toddler in the crook of his arm just before he hit the gravel beneath him.
As flames fanned out of the top balcony of an apartment building in Phoenix, Arizona, 30-year-old mother Rachel Long ran into the fire, grabbed her young son Jameson, and dropped him from the balcony, hoping to save him. Long died in the blaze.
“She’s the real hero of the story,” Blanks told KABC-TV. “Because she made the ultimate sacrifice to save her children.”
Recalling the intense July 3 ordeal, Blanks, who was a wide receiver at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo for the 2016-2017 season, said Jameson “was twirling in the air like a propeller.”
“I just did my best,” the former college athlete said. “His head landed perfectly on my elbow. His ankle got twisted up as I was diving. The guy who was there with me — it looked like he wasn’t going to catch him. So that’s what I stepped in. I just wanted to make a better catch.”
Blanks also served in the U.S. Marines and now works in security.
Playing football, he explained, taught him how to catch. As for the instinct to help, Blanks said, “I can definitely [give] credit to the Marine Corps for instilling this good training in me to save a life. I don’t see myself as a hero. A person trained to do my job is trained to protect people.”
Both Jameson and his 8-year-old sister were taken to the hospital with burns. They are expected to survive.
Rachel Long is survived by her two kids and her husband, Corey, who is now homeless. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help alleviate some of the family’s costs. So far, more than $57,000 has been raised.