MISSION VIEJO (CBSLA) — A former Orange County wide receiver and former Marine turned his skills from the football field into a life-saving action last week by helping to rescue a 3-year-old from a burning building.

28-year-old Phillip Blanks was visiting a friend in Phoenix, Arizona on July 3 when he heard cries for help from people trapped inside an apartment on fire.

A fire burned in a Phoenix, Arizona apartment on July 3, 2020, and Phillip Blanks, 28, intervened to catch a baby thrown from the balcony. (Courtesy: Albert Bell III via Storyful)

Without wearing shoes and the foresight to know that in the next moments he would land a perfect catch, Blanks held his arms out to make sure the baby escaped that burning home safely.

“He was twirling like a helicopter. When I caught him, he was lightweight honestly. His head perfectly fell right here in my elbow,” Blanks said. “Everything was intact except for his foot, unfortunately.”

The boy and his 8-year-old sister were critically injured in the fire, Blanks told CBS affiliate WWMT, and their mother did not survive.

Blanks describes himself as optimistic and helpful, so when he realized someone had to step in, he didn’t hesitate.

Phillip Blanks in an undated photo. (Courtesy: Phillip Blanks)

“I always put in in my head that if something happens like this wherever I’m at, I’m gonna be the one to save the day. That’s just how I think, that’s just how I am. I like to help people,” Blanks said.

Blanks joined Saddleback College’s football team as a wide receiver in 2016. His former coach Mark McElroy remembers him as dedicated to bettering himself and leading other teammates.

“His strong work ethic and his effort in practice is what caused people to follow him,” McElroy said. “To head toward a burning building and to help whoever needs help and then as this child is tossed from the second floor, for him to dive and layout and really make it an unbelievable catch to where he actually had his arm underneath his head, it was nothing short of heroic.”

Blanks has long-held dreams of joining the NFL but had to quit football for personal reasons, which he says left him devastated.

Despite not playing the sport professionally, he now devotes his time to making a difference in other ways.

He has started his own security company and helps kids in his community stay out of trouble.

Blanks told WWMT that he also wants to track down the kids who survived the fire and their family to make sure they are doing okay.

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