Commentary | Former Manatee football star Mike Blakely hoping to restart his career at USF

adell@bradenton.comJanuary 15, 2014 

0827_BRSP_tab_Blakely

BlakelyGRANT JEFFERIES/gjefferies@bradenton.com Mike Blakely, Manatee High School

GRANT JEFFERIES — gjefferies@bradenton.com Buy Photo

For Mike Blakely, running between the tackles has been a lot easier than navigating through the NCAA's web of rules.

But there is one benefit.

Blakely has been forced to slow down.

The standout running back couldn't wait to get his college career going. He left Manatee High early so he could be ready for spring practice at the University of Florida in 2011.

Unfortunately, he found the road to his dreams filled with obstacles.

With two years of eligibility remaining beginning next season, Blakely is planning on attending a fourth school.

He hopes this will be his last. Sink or swim, it looks that way.

His first choice is the University of South Florida, where Willie Taggart has reopened the school for second chances he used to run at Western Kentucky.

If that doesn't work out, South Alabama would be Blakely's next choice, and then there are others who covet his services.

Blakely has talent and is due for some good fortune.

He was rated the sixth-best running back in the nation and a five-star prospect at Manatee and could've written his ticket to nearly any school in the country.

Things started to go wrong almost immediately at Florida, through no fault of his own. Urban Meyer, who recruited Blakely, left. Then Blakely injured his shoulder.

It was a washout, but Auburn came calling, and Blakely got a second chance at the big time.

He played with the Tigers in 2012 and things just didn't work out with the Tigers' stable of running backs looking like Grand Central Station at rush hour.

The 5-foot-9. 205-pounder left Auburn after the 2012 season and thought he was headed for USF.

He was banking on the NCAA granting him a hardship waiver because he was coming home to take care of his 1-year-old son Mike III.

Like most college athletes, Blakely was naïve to believe in the NCAA.

College football's ruling body said he could not play for a third Division I school until he secured an associate's degree.

Blakely played for Hutchinson Community College in Kansas last season. If he gets his degree this spring, Blakely says he will be eligible to play at a Division I school.

"I left Auburn (after the 2012 season) because I wanted to come home and take care of my son.

I thought was going to get a waiver," Blakely said. "I felt it was the right thing to do. I left Auburn on good terms and was happy to see them do well and go to the BCS title game."

Blakely might have been part of that title run. He and Onterio McCalebb were battling Auburn's leading rusher, Tre Mason, for starting time in 2012.

Mason, who rushed for 1,835 yards and 23 touchdowns this past season, won that job with 1,038 yards in '12. Blakely finished third with 158 yards on 33 carries. He led the Tigers in rushing against Mississippi State and Arkansas and his potential was evident, but it's a numbers game with a lot of programs.

"I learned college football is a business, but it was fun at Auburn. I talked to Tre the other day, and we still keep in touch," Blakely said.

After a tough season last year under first-year head coach Taggart, USF is looking for a running back to help ignite an offense that is based on a strong ground game.

"I think I could do well there, and I talked to assistant coach (Ray) Woodie. They haven't promised me anything," Blakely said. "I talked to the coaches at South Alabama more than anywhere, and that is a possibility. There are other schools interested in me."

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056.

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