Blount recognized the 850 area code and number and immediately answered. Southerland didn't want to know why. Never asked, in fact. Instead, Southerland, who played football with Blount's father Gary at Taylor County in the mid-1970s and considers himself a family friend, offered advice and support. A remorseful Blount, 2,357 miles from his Florida safety net in Eugene, Ore., quietly listened.
"I told him three things," Southerland, 49, said in an interview with FanHouse.
"No. 1, you learn from every mistake that you make and you need to learn from this. No. 2, they are allowing you to get your education, so get it. And, No. 3, you need to stay in the best shape of your life because the pros won't get to see you run on Saturdays, so they are going to attend practice to see you. They don't want troublemakers in the pros.
"LaGarrette's not that way at all."
Of course, Blount was that way for an unforgettable moment during the evening of Sept. 3. Nobody in their right mind has debated otherwise. Even Blount, after the fact, quickly admitted he "lost his head."
Oregon at Boise State, in a game that kicked off the 2009 college football season. Celebrating the 19-8 victory on the Broncos' trademark blue turf, defensive end Byron Hout yelled in Blount's face and tapped him on the shoulder pad. Before Boise State coach Chris Petersen could pull Hout away, Blount landed a right to Hout's jaw, knocking him to his knees, his eyes rolling up in his head. A clearly agitated Blount also had to be restrained by teammates and police from fans heckling him on the way to the locker room.
It was not the first time Blount had been in trouble at Oregon. Former Ducks' coach Mike Bellotti benched Blount for three quarters against Cal last season and suspended him indefinitely in February for "failure to follow team obligations." But the running back seemed more comfortable with his new coach, Chip Kelly, earning praise for his improved attitude under Kelly and making the outburst all the more unexpected.
Well past midnight on the East Coast, Southerland had already gone to bed. He was in for a rude awakening.
Ironically, it was only a week or so earlier when Blount, on a whirlwind visit home, stopped in Southerland's furniture store on the north edge of town. Southerland, also a memorabilia dealer, has compiled video of every Taylor County High football game since 1961. (He also has every yearbook since 1948).
Southerland gave Blount a DVD of his father's Bulldog career (1974-77), which ended in defeat against Bartow High in the state finals. If LaGarrette Blount's not the best football player to hail from Taylor County, the third largest in the nation by acreage, but with just under 20,000 residents -- 6,500 in the Perry city limits -- then Gary Blount just might be.
Gary was a 6-foot-3, 250-pound middle linebacker. He also kicked off. He had glasses, a wide smile and wore a hat everywhere he went, even on the football sidelines when not in the game. Legend has it that Blount split an opponent's helmet on a block and routinely sailed kickoffs out of the stadium. Both are true, Southerland said. "When he hit people, they stopped," he said.
The difference between old man and son was speed. LaGarrette Blount, a 6-foot-2, 246-pounder, is a unique blend of power and quickness.
That's why Blount, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2008 with promising pro potential, smiled and, in his deep voice, told Southerland he couldn't wait for the season to start. But that's all he can do now. Wait -- and make the mature, sound decisions that may help him get back on the field for the last four games of the regular season.
His senior season at the moment?
One game. One defeat. Eight carries for minus-5 yards. And one sucker punch.
The video went viral the next day, seemingly streaming non-stop across the Internet and televisions from coast to coast. It also served as a parody for late-night talk shows. Kelly, in his first season as Oregon's head coach, told a sobbing Blount that, after reviewing tape of the altercation, he was suspended for the season.
"Totally stunned," Southerland said when he watched the replay that next morning for the first time.
"I saw the news and fell out of my seat. No way do you expect that from him. No way. I don't know what the guy said to him, but whatever it was. ... that was totally out of character. He's yes-sir, no-sir. Humble. If he's fooled me, he's done a good job."
Taylor High School principal Michael Thompson, 51, a former prep football player at Rickards, an hour's ride north to Tallahassee, also watched the replay in disbelief. Blount had sat across from Thompson in the Principal's office many times during Blount's prep days.
A four-year starter and three-time 1,000-yard rusher, Blount was popular with teachers and classmates. He was on the homecoming court. He wasn't perfect -- what high schoolers are? -- but he wasn't a bad apple by any means. He later volunteered to serve meals at the local Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce meetings and also returned to talk to students.
Thompson and Blount chatted about academics, athletics and goals.
"He was a C-average student but he could have been a lot better if he worked at it," said Thompson, who oversees 685 high school students. There are 3,200 students in the Taylor County public school system, from Pre-K to 12th grade.
"I told him with your size and speed, you can do whatever you want to because scholarships are going to come your way. But don't forget about your education," Thompson continued. "His goal was to play professional football. That was achievable but I told him he needed to stay focused in college to give himself that opportunity.
"When I saw [the news], it wasn't the young man I know. I have never seen that explosive side. If I had the opportunity to talk to him right now, I'd tell him again there's always obstacles in life. You have to be accountable with how you respond. You must think, then react -- not react, then think. He has already lost a lot but, given a second opportunity, he won't make this mistake again.
"Even if you fall down, get your butt up, dust yourself off and keep going. You owe that to yourself."
Kelly said he hoped Blount's ultimate legacy "won't be a YouTube clip of what happened to him on September 3rd in Boise, Idaho." On Friday, Oct. 2, Kelly discussed a plan that would give Blount an opportunity to be reinstated to the program later this season, provided he continues to follow a plan set in place after the first game.
Blount has been participating in Oregon practice as a member of the scout team and has been attending classes under scholarship. No. 13 Oregon, off this week, has ripped off five consecutive victories since the Boise State debacle.
Southerland is grateful for Kelly's change of heart.
"Coach didn't give up on him and I told LeGarrette not to give up on himself," Southerland said.
Blount hasn't stopped apologizing for his indiscretion, even writing to the student newspaper, The Emerald, and asking the Oregon community for its forgiveness. He has undergone anger management counseling. He telephoned Hout and Petersen to apologize and consulted with Kermit Washington, a former NBA star known primarily for punching Rudy Tomjanovich, as well as Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Dr. Harry Edwards on how he can learn from his mistake and move on. He's also on course to graduate with honors, according to Southerland.
"When he returns he always comes by to see us, to offer support and encouragement to the kids, and I just think that's part of his personality. I can't imagine what happened that day," said Debra Mash, an administrative assistant at Taylor County High. Janet Johnstono, in her 11th year in the school's computer lab, added, "LeGarrette was always respectful when he was here, and honestly, I don't think he realizes the potential that he has."
Gary Blount and wife Barbara declined to be interviewed for this story. Mark Southerland's son Drew, 20, a sophomore starting offensive lineman during Blount's senior season in 2005, keeps in touch with Blount and former teammates and classmates on Facebook.
"He was a beast on the football field but a friend off," said Drew, whose younger brother Tony currently plays for the Bulldogs, rejuvenated under first-year coach Shane Boggs. The program has undergone two coaching changes since Blount attended Taylor County.
"He was always above everyone, physically and athletically," continued Drew, who resides in Tampa but had returned home for a few days. "I've never seen him do anything like what I saw that night [against Boise]. Never. He had his chances, too, because his trigger could have been pulled with what some of stuff these teams did to him [during games], going after his knees. The cheap shots. He could have blown up, but he never did."
Following his prep career, Blount didn't meet academic requirements and attended East Mississippi Community College, where he rushed for 2,292 yards and 18 touchdowns in two seasons and was named the country's top JUCO running back by Rivals.com. With coaches from both schools in attendance, Blount could have signed with Florida State, but instead opted for a fresh start in the Northwest at Oregon.
The Punch has certainly changed the ending. Nobody knows or wants to venture to guess what Hout shouted at Blount. Still, all may not be lost.
"When I talked to LeGarrette -- I've talked to him twice now -- he told me that he didn't want to come home," Southerland said.
"He knew if he did, he may never leave. He has proven himself to me and has changed my mind. I even told his mother that, honestly, I didn't think he'd ever make it academically when he left Taylor County. I thought he'd flunk out and be home. I am proud of him, and many others are, too. [The Punch] happened. I know he regrets it.
"I just want to let him know that we are thinking about him and a lot of people in town are keeping him in mind and in our prayers."