She was the high school star, a legendary athlete in the small town of Sahuarita in the early 1990’s, who was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame on the same night of her father Javier Blanco, a highly respected man who can cast a shadow the size of Green Valley in those parts.
He grew up around the big city lights of the Los Angeles area, without his biological father and band of supporters like the former Linda Blanco experienced in Sahuarita. Nathan Ransom developed a passion for competition, most of that drive coming from within, emerging as a top running back in his high school league, then moving on to play at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif., before embarking on a military career.
Together, Nathan and Linda Ransom comprise a parenting bond that is as strong as Nathan’s physique as captain of the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Fire Department and as endearing as Linda’s hugs before games for both of their kids — Lathan and Jalynn — two budding stars of their own at Salpointe Catholic.
“Yes sir, it’s good to listen to them because they went through what I’m going through,” said Lathan, a junior standout safety with the unbeaten Lancers, when asked about his parents’ influence. “Just listening to their past experiences and how they learned from it, and how they’re teaching me now, so I don’t make the same mistakes when they were young, it is very important.”
Salpointe (5-0) hosts Sahuaro (4-1) in a key 4A Kino Region game tonight at 7.
Lathan is known for his well-mannered and respectful behavior as indicated by his “Yes sirs” and “Yes ma’ams.” From those words alone, from a 16-year-old, it is very much identifiable that he is being raised right. Jalynn, a member of Salpointe’s varsity volleyball team despite being only a freshman, is the same way.
Linda said she had a strict upbringing by her father who retired as a master sergeant at Davis-Monthan. Mr. Blanco was a four-sport star at Sahuarita as a senior in 1974, including baseball in which he led the Mustangs to their first state title.
On Dec. 17, 2004, Linda and her father were enshrined into the Sahuarita High School Hall of Fame when Lathan was only 2. Linda remains the school’s career leader — in boys and girls basketball — with 1,383 career points. She holds the single-season record with 441 points as well as the steals and assists records almost a quarter-century after her career ended there. She went on to play at Pima College.
“I have seen pictures of my mom playing and I have seen videos of my dad playing, so it’s been cool to see them both playing when they were my age,” said Lathan, who is destined to be one of Tucson’s most highly recruited players with 14 scholarship offers now from the nation’s top college football programs.
Linda was also an outstanding softball player at Sahuarita, still in the top three in career batting average, slugging percentage and home runs.
“I guess I get my athleticism from my father. He was also very strict. Making the right life choices was so important,” Linda said. “The difference now from back then with kids is social media, that aspect. Assumptions can be made of who you are. We didn’t have that back then. We’re very honest with our kids about our mistakes and our choices, and to have them learn from them and do better than what we did.”
While Linda was a military brat, Nathan became involved in the military after his football career started at Mount San Antonio College.
“I decided that I needed to join the military because I was not doing anything,” Nathan said. “I was stationed at Davis-Monthan from 1997 to 2001. That’s when we met. I think we both know that military lifestyle and it’s a difficult lifestyle.”
Making the bond closer between Lathan and his father is Nathan’s upbringing without his biological father around.
“We both grew up in different types of backgrounds,” Nathan acknowledged about he and Linda. “I think I learned how to be a father on the fly. I tried to figure it out with him. That’s why me and Lathan are so close and I kept him close as much as I could because I was learning things with him.. … I didn’t want to fail at that. You have good days and bad days but I feel like, ‘Hey man, we’re doing a pretty good job.'”
Through their different backgrounds and exposure to the military, Nathan and Linda share many themes with their parenting skills that have made Lathan and Jalynn become what they are today and what they will be beyond their high school years.
Building a solid foundation
Lathan is preparing for the next stage in his life, which will include college football. Only the destination is unknown. Jalynn has a while to make that decision. With Nathan and Linda each having an extensive military backgrounds, the natural thought is their children will become part of that lifestyle.
If that does not happen, and it might not depending on their collegiate careers, Nathan and Linda want a solid foundation for their lives in place anyway.
“I wouldn’t say I don’t want them (Lathan and Jalynn) to join the military but if you have a good foundation, there is an easier life maybe for you,” Nathan said. “That’s what we’re really trying to push for them — let us instill the discipline and then you can go off in life. That’s what we try to do as a family. We’ve been together for 21 years. We’re really close. We’ve been together all of us four, through everything.”
Nathan also said a part of the building the strong foundation for Lathan and Jalynn is the fact he and Linda became heavily involved with their athletic development as coaches. Nathan coached Lathan with the Tucson Youth Football League’s Vikings and Falcons and they both coached his youth basketball teams.
“I know how important that is,” Nathan said. “I didn’t want him to have the wrong coach. I’m not saying I was the best coach. I’m sure I made some mistakes. I believe I could build that foundation the best I could. I knew that once he came here to Salpointe (under coach Dennis Bene) he was going to be doing the right things.
“We’ve tried to surround him with the best people that we could. We really studied the coaching staffs. I wanted to put him on a solid coaching staff. He does a passing league and the coaching staff is solid. He comes here and the coaching staff is solid. As long as he can do that, and he gets shipped off to Stanford or go to wherever, I’m not going to worry at all. I don’t think we’ll feel worried at all.”
Giving 100 percent
“For both of us, we try to express 100 percent with our kids. Go in there, and as long as you give it all your effort, I’m going to be satisfied, she’s going to be satisfied, regardless of the outcome,” said Nathan, who was been the captain of the fire department at Davis-Monthan for almost three years after working 12 years at Fort Huachuca and before that serving at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas. “We both, since Day One, don’t like our kids doing everything not at 100 percent. We’ve stressed that in school and in life. If you do everything to your full capability, usually good things happen. That’s what we’ve always stressed from Day One.”
Being independently strong
Nathan mentioned that his teaching and mentoring goes beyond their son and daughter. It extends to the 18- and 19-year-olds that work in the fire department at Davis-Monthan.
“That’s their first base so they just left their families. So I’m trying to instill that same stuff with them that we are doing with our kids,” Nathan said. “I have a good little connection with them, with raising the kids, and raising my kids at work.”
Linda recalls when her father used to invite airmen over to their family’s home for Thanksgiving.
“We kind of incorporated that same involvement with our own kids,” she said. “Our kids see from these young people in the military and they see that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re on your own. When you make right choices, you’re very respectful and you have good grades and everything that comes with it. At the end of the day, they’re good looking kids. All that comes into play. That schooling is a big thing.”
While Nathan was still commuting back and forth to Las Vegas after they originally moved to Vail in 2004, Linda was working at a juvenile detention center on the southside of Tucson. She was exposed to the many problems confronting the city’s youth.
She uses that experience to let Lathan and Jalynn know of the negative influences people their age might come across.
“We’ve been very open and honest about the drugs, sex, anything you can think of,” Linda said. “My kids know that there are two-person family households and they know there are a lot of kids who have single parents raising their kids.
“We try to keep Lathan humble. He knows anything can happen and you have to be prepared.”
Part of that humbling process is keeping Lathan grounded despite all the accolades and attention from college recruiters.
“He still cuts the yard. He has chores to do,” Linda said in a matter-of-fact tone.
Lathan gets plenty of feedback and instruction about football from Bene to his defensive coaches at Salpointe to personal trainer Wilrey Fontenot, a former Arizona cornerback who was in the NFL for two years after being a seventh-round draft choice by the Atlanta Falcons in 2008.
Fontenot has “taken Lathan under his wings,” Nathan said. Included in the workout regimen is running drills on Tumamoc Hill near “A” Mountain.
Linda said Lathan is “his own driven machine,” getting to school early and often going to Davis-Monthan to work out with his dad at the gym there after practice, often coming home at 9:30 p.m. Other than helping with Lathan’s physical aspects, Nathan also communicates often to his son about his performances during games, including those 35-minute drives home to Vail, after the games are done.
“He wants to hear our opinion because it’s honest,” Nathan said. “I’m watching every single play. If he looks tired and he looks like he took a play off, I’m going to let him know about it. If you have a bad game, you’re going to hear it in our family. If you have a great game, you’re going to hear you had a great game but you could have done this a little bit better.
“Not to say we don’t give them their praise when their praise is due, but we definitely are 100 percent honest when it comes to their effort. If they’re not giving me 100 percent I can care less if they win or lose. I want them to win, don’t get me wrong. If they win, if their effort was crap, I’m not happy. … I think he really respects our honesty because who else is going to be honest with him? He knows that we love him.”
Nathan and Linda have nurtured Lathan through his season-ending elbow injury last year that prevented him from playing in the state playoffs by “rebuilding his confidence,” says Linda. They tell him to play stress-free by having fun and his true talent will show.
Linda sits in the same spot every home game with Nathan. She always gets that pregame hug from Lathan.
“He’s my ‘lilman,” she says.
Nathan buys a lanyard for every college that has offered Lathan a scholarship, a way to help keep what can be a stressful process a lighthearted one.
“I want him to see it when he walks out of his room every day as a way to tell him, ‘This is why you’re doing this,'” Nathan said. “He kind of lost a bit of his swagger after the injury last year. I think once he started rebuilding and seeing his body change, saw college coaches coming in, he started to put a lot of pressure on himself.
“We kind of had a talk as a family a couple of months ago saying, ‘Look, this is great. This is fun. This is the time to have fun and enjoy this because in two years, it’s serious time when you go to college. Let’s enjoy this time. Let’s enjoy this as a family.’ I think he took a step back and said, ‘You’re right. There’s no reason to be stressed. This is all positive.’ After that, I think he’s been doing really well handling it, just kind of letting it all soak in.”
Linda’s master’s degree in Substance Abuse Counseling achieved in 2016 from Grand Canyon University — she lauds Salpointe’s random drug testing policy — is another symbol to her kids that goals can be reached despite any circumstance.
“I want my children prepared for all things that can happen and impact the path you can take in life,” Linda said. “Hence why they got to see mama finish my dream of finishing my college the harder way as a full-time mom and wife very later in life. So, my children understand the struggles.”
The name Lathan is easily detectable with the combination of Linda and Nathan’s names, which is appropriate for how they have combined in their own way, through their different backgrounds, to try to make Lathan whole.
Jalynn’s name comes from Linda’s sister Jessica Lynn Blanco, who had a heart condition and never made it out of surgery when she was 13. She passed away two weeks before Lathan was born. The Sahuarita Junior High School library has a mural of Jessica at the entrance because she died right after the eighth grade there before she could attend Sahuarita High School.
Many elements exist with Nathan and Linda’s life that lends to the remarkable development of their children. A book can be written.
“Our life lessons are most important with what we have shared with our kids,” Linda said. “We hope it will put them in a better position than us. That’s what it’s all about.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.