Phillip Blanks and D'Artagnan Alexander saving a toddler from a fire in Phoenix, Arizona.
  • Phillip Blanks, a former American college football player and US Marine, caught a toddler who had been thrown off a balcony during a fire in Arizona, US over the weekend.
  • The fire broke out on July 3, and the toddler's mother threw the boy off a balcony to save him from the flames before she died.
  • The toddler's sister also survived the fire, and the children's father was at work when the fire broke out.
  • Blanks lives in the building where the fire occurred, and said his time in the Marines and playing American football helped him make the catch.
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A former college football player made the most important catch of his life over the weekend when he caught a 3-year-old boy who was thrown from a burning building in Arizona.

Video from the fire on July 3 shows Phillip Blanks, 28, making a split-second decision to dive and catch the toddler after seeing the boy falling from the third floor of the building in Phoenix.

"He was twirling in the air like a propeller," Blanks told ABC 7. "I just did my best. 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 why I stepped in. I just wanted to make a better catch."

The toddler's 8-year-old sister also survived the fire, but their 30-year-old mother, identified by the Washington Post as Rachel Long, died in the fire.

"She's the real hero of the story," Blanks told ABC 7. "Because she made the ultimate sacrifice to save her children."

The children's father, Corey Long, was at work when the fire broke out, The Post reported.

Blanks, who lives in the building where the fire happened, now works in security, but he's also a former US Marine who played football at Michigan's Kalamazoo Central High School, Kalamazoo Valley College, and Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California.

He credited his quick-thinking to his work in the Marines and security, but also said football helped him make the right move in the moment.

"I know how to catch," he told ABC 7. "I've learned how to catch a football. So I'll give some credit to football."

He also thanked the other bystander who had jumped in to help amid the blaze, D'Artagnan Alexander. He told The Post that Alexander "deserves more recognition."

Blanks and Alexander have been in contact with Corey Long since the incident, and went together to meet him in person.

"Saving this child changed my entire perspective," Blanks told The Post. "It made me realise how short life is, and how we need to protect each other and treat people better."

The fire affected more than eight apartment units, according to AZ Central. Police are investigating the blaze, but there's no immediate reason to consider it suspicious.

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