CLYDE, N.C. — The tattooed lumberjack looked proudly at his pupil like a proud father would upon his newborn son. Only this was no ordinary lumberjack — and certainly no regular pupil, either.
This was Jay Blackburn, former Haywood Community College student now competing on the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Professional Series, who had returned to campus in support of his successor, Josh "Tiny" Roten.
In the year since Blackburn earned his spot on the professional series by winning the Collegiate Series Championship, the North Carolinian has worked in the construction industry and, more recently for a tree-trimming service after moving back to Marion, N.C.
But on Saturday, Blackburn walked upon the same field on which he had competed years before — to cheer on those teammates he left behind this year. At this spring's Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Series event, the humble lumberjack received his near-celebrity status well, shaking hands with whomever approached and catching up with old friends.
His competitive streak still burned, however.
"I wanted to talk to Tiny, but didn't want to confuse him with too much information," Blackburn said, just before Roten started his underhand chop. "Some of them (the competitors) just really need to calm down."
Blackburn had been sharing tips with Roten during the weeks leading up to the event. And while he never go a chance to speak Roten prior to the whistle blow, Blackburn offered a simple nod to the burly man, balancing his large frame unsteadily atop the rounded cant. Roten acknowledged Blackburn's affirmation, but soon focused his attention on the task at-hand. After the job was done, the two men reunited for a brief conversation.
After speaking with Roten, Blackburn joined ESPNOutdoors.com to talk about his new life as a professional lumberjack. Reflecting on the differences between the collegiate and professional series, Blackburn explained how much harder he has to work on his game now.
"It's definitely what I expected," he said. "I'd work all day at my job, then practice until 10 or 11 o'clock at night, last season."
He also noted how he thought stress builds higher for the professional lumberjack during a competition.
"I know the competition is a lot higher level — it's so much higher," Blackburn said, peeking in on the action.
Currently, Blackburn is in the process of training again for this year's season. He has set simple goals he feels he can easily achieve.
"I just don't want to disqualify in an event," he said. "And I want to win every heat I'm in."
When the underhand chop ended, the stock saw competition followed. And Blackburn paid particular attention to this event since this skill had ultimately earned him the ticket to compete professionally.
"That's what it came down to for me — the stock saw," Blackburn said. "I had the 660 (STIHL Magnum MS 660 chain saw) and I was used to it."
With the first STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Professional Series event beginning June 6th in Lehi, Utah, Blackburn has time to improve all facets of professional lumberjack competitions.
"But I'm not really going to worry about the springboard," Blackburn said, laughing about the difficult event.