SAN ANTONIO — Mike Blakely is alone in Texas.
The standout running back from Manatee HS in Bradenton is the only player in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl who is currently committed to the University of Florida.
“I think I’m the only person here that’s going to Florida right now,” Blakely said following the East team practice on Tuesday. “Hopefully, I won’t be the only one.”
Don’t feel sorry for him, because he’s all smiles and feels like he could assist in making sure he isn’t the only player from Saturday’s game (1 p.m. ET, NBC) that will ultimately be wearing orange and blue.
The Gators are recruiting a few of Blakely’s teammates, including Lake City (Columbia HS) defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (6-2/ 275), St. Augustine (Menendez HS) linebacker Tony Steward (6-2/ 225), Ft. Lauderdale (Dillard HS) safety Wayne Lyons (6-0/ 190) and Richmond, Va. (Hermitage HS) linebacker Curtis Grant (6-3/ 222).
“I’m trying to get number 8 over there (Jernigan), and I’ll try to work on (Steward) a little bit when he gets here,” Blakely said. “We need them.”
Blakely (5-9/ 194) and the East team have held four practices since arriving in Texas, mostly working out without pads.
“I like all the guys here,” Blakely said. “The competition level is very different because you’ve got the best of the best at every position. In high school, I could get around the corner easy on the defensive end. But here, every step you take, somebody’s right there. It’s fast, but I like it though. I like the competition.
“Jernigan has been really standing out to me, so has (Cape Coral, Island Coast HS, tight end) Aaron Lynch,” Blakely said. “Those guys have been killing me.”
Lynch is verbally committed to Florida State, but Jernigan has not made a decision yet.
“I was just talking to (Jernigan), seeing what he likes, throwing a couple hints out there about Florida,” Blakely said. “He’s a hard case though. He told me he grew up liking Florida his whole life, but he says he doesn’t know (where he’s going to go yet). I’ll try to talk to him later about it.“
Players who are either committed to Florida State, or seem likely to decide to become Seminoles on National Signing Day (Feb. 2), have been working on Blakely as well.
“They’re trying to get me to go to Florida State, but I just tell them ‘nah, I can’t do that, I’m already committed to my team,’” Blakely said. “I’m trying to talk to them, ‘y’all need to come out to Florida.’”
When Blakely was told that Ft. Lauderdale (St. Thomas Aquinas HS) cornerback Marcus Roberson (6-0/ 170) recently said he was interested in UF, Blakely’s eyes opened wide. He was excited at the possibility that Roberson would join with him because the two got along well during their official visit to Auburn.
Blakely said he felt like he had to help sway another recruit, saying, “I need to do my part.”
In doing his part, he would be extending the efforts of quarterback Jeff Driskel (Oviedo, Hagerty HS), who has been making sure Blakely remained solid in his commitment to enroll at UF together.
“The only other guy I’ve talked to really is Driskel,” Blakely said. “He’s a good quarterback. You can put him in any situation and he’ll go a do his thing. Hopefully we can bond and we can gel with the offense and we can handle our side of the ball. I know the defense will handle their side of the ball. It’s just up to the offense.”
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Blakely has been happy with new Florida head coach Will Muschamp during the numerous telephone conversations they have had.
“I like him,” Blakely said. “He’s a good coach. I think he’s going to bring back the program, getting in the I (formation), pounding the ball more — that’ how you have to win in the SEC. Last year, we (Florida) didn’t run the ball too good, but I have faith in him because he’s a good defensive guy.”
Muschamp has been assembling a coaching staff that is loaded with experience in the professional ranks, including offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, offensive line coach/running game coordinator Frank Verducci and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
“That’s better for us (on offense),” Blakely said of the professional experience on the staff. “I know that when they were in the NFL, they had to run the ball (to win), so I know that I’m going to get the ball at running back.
“I also know that they scheme different from other college coaches. That’s like a higher level. They are used to paid professionals. They are coaching for us, and we’re playing for them, and we’re trying to get everything on the same pace. I’m pretty sure that will be a good thing.”
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Blakely won’t have any free time between Saturday’s game and the beginning of spring semester classes at UF.
“I start school on Jan 10, when I go back on Monday,” Blakely said. “I don’t know who I’m rooming with. I start school as soon as I leave (Texas), I get home Sunday, then I’m going to drive straight to Gainesville.”
Blakely said he is eager for spring practice to begin, especially if he is wearing one of two numbers.
“Hopefully, I’ll wear number seven,” Blakely said. “Twenty-two was my dad’s old number, so I have no problem with it. That’s one of the numbered I optioned to get. Emmitt Smith wore it at UF, so I’m set with that number, I’m good.”
Blakely was No. 7 in high school and will wear No. 22 in Saturday’s game.
“Basically, it’s just going to be like a college freshman game,” Blakely said. “I’m just going to go out there and see what I can do, see what I can work on.”