Campus Connection | Mike Blakely trying resurrect his career at Hutchinson Community College; USF could be option

adell@bradenton.comDecember 5, 2013 

Mike Blakely, Bo Brand, Ben Axon and Brion Carnes were once among the most coveted college football prospects in the country.

They are examples of what can go wrong and how the road from high school superstar to college can be a journey with many twists and turns.

Blakely signed with Florida, transferred to Auburn and then was without a school.

The former Manatee High running back is trying to resurrect his career in the relative obscurity of junior college ball at Hutchinson Community College.

Blakely has learned nothing is easy and has been hampered by an ankle injury that has bothered him nearly the entire season.

Despite that obstacle, the 5-foot-9, 191-pound sophomore ranks second for Hutchinson with 263 yards rushing on 61 carries (4.3 average), has caught 22 passes for 194 yards and returned seven punts for 157 yards (22.4 ave.), including a 57-yard TD return.

He has played sparingly in recent weeks because of his injury, and head coach Rion Rhoades said Blakely is 50-50 to play in Hutchinson's Salt City Bowl game against Dakota College on Saturday.

Blakely is eligible to return to NCAA Division I and could wind up at USF under Bulls head coach Willie Taggart, one of Manatee High's great quarterbacks.

Brand was rated among the top receivers in the state after his graduation from Southeast. He had some academic issues and signed with Taggart then-head coach at Western Kentucky.

Brand left WKU after the 2012 season and last summer enrolled at Campbellsville University, an NAIA school in Kentucky. He had to sit out last season, but is expected to be eligible in 2014 with two years left to play.

Coincidentally, Campbellsville was the last stop for Axon, another Manatee High running back.

Axon once signed with South Carolina and has attended four colleges, including Western Kentucky before joining Campbellsville last spring.

He was dismissed from the school for reasons that are perhaps a bit on the cloudy side. But considering all the chances Axon had, he needed to be squeaky clean.

He was leading the Tigers in rushing with 372 yards on 81 carries (4.5 ave.) and caught six passes

for 62 yards. Axon doesn't have many options except to try some pro ball, perhaps in Canada. At 6-2, 230 pounds, he has the size.

Carnes was named to the Missouri Valley Conference All-Newcomer Team after starting the final three games for Northern Iowa and leading the Panthers to victories in each.

The Manatee High product spent the past two seasons as a backup at Nebraska and took a chance coming to UNI, which already had a quarterback solidly entrenched in the position. But Sawyer Kollmorgen got hurt, and Carnes made the most of his opportunity. They appear to be dead even in the competition to be the starter next season.

Despite Axon's situation, Campbellsville has turned out very well for a quartet of former Manatee County players.

Cornerback Davian Evans-Dufree, a Manatee High product, made first team All Mid-South Conference with 33 tackles (22 solos) and an interception.

Also among the leaders in tackles for Campbellsville were monster backs Travon Montgomery (31 tackles) and Shaunski Lawrence (29) from Manatee and Palmetto's Rashaud Hill (26 tackles, two interceptions), who played a lot of cornerback.

A.J. Strong from Out-Of-Door-Academy was the Tigers jack of all trades and spent a lot of time at linebacker. But he will go into the spring as the Tigers' number one running back, according to assistant coach Vincent Davis, who grew up in Palmetto.

Former Southeast star Jon Dowling spent a season at Florida before transferring to Western Kentucky, where he earned first-team All-Sun Belt Conference honors last year, could opt for the NFL draft this spring.

The junior safety led the SBC with six forced fumbles and had three interceptions, seven pass breakups and topped all WKU defensive backs with 67 tackles.

Braden River graduate Willie McNeal led the Hilltoppers with 46 receptions and 599 receiving yards and five TD receptions. Manatee High's Leon Allen was the second-leading rusher with 370 yards (5.0 ave.) and five rushing touchdowns.

All three are at WKU because of Taggart, who left after the 2012 season for USF.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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