The Swamp seems to have swallowed up our young.
Jon Dowling didn’t stay long enough to share Thanksgiving dinner with teammates, Mike Blakely never was there mentally to begin with, and Kedric Johnson seems stuck in quicksand, unsure of his future.
Johnson, Dowling and Blakely are the three most recent Manatee County football players to sign with Florida. They envisioned a paradise in Gainesville and found a place that puts high demands on people. Those demands are hard to meet if your heart is not into it.
Trouble in paradise? Absolutely!
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A knee-jerk reaction to Blakely transferring out of Florida this week would be to blame it on early enrollment, a trend that is sweeping college football.
But that would oversimplify things.
Dowling, the heralded defensive back from Southeast, quit the team before last season ended and is at Western Kentucky.
Johnson signed with Florida out of Palmetto in 2009 and has played sparingly. The defensive end sits in limbo because of an arrest for marijuana possession, but before that made no impact on the depth chart. He cleared his legal hurdles, but Gators head coach Will Muschamp has not yet decided his fate.
If these three share a common thread it might be pressure to sign with Florida and expectations that exceed reality.
The reach of the Gator is long. Pressure to sign with Florida can come from everywhere: family, friends and coaches. It’s an awful lot for an 18-year-old to handle.
Blakely left Manatee in mid-winter to enroll early at Florida. Dowling and Johnson took the normal route. It hasn’t worked out for any of them in Gainesville.
Blakely’s situation exposes the risks of early enrollment.
After Blakely verbally committed to the Gators last season, the three people closest to him at Florida -- head coach Urban Meyer, offensive coordinator Steve Addazio (now head coach at Temple) and running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Stan Drayton (now at Ohio State) -- all left.
Add those losses to an injury that kept him out of spring practice and a very deep running back depth chart, and you see a dilemma brewing.
USA Today has been tracking early enrollees at BCS schools since 2002 and found that 134 players came into those schools early this year, compared to 12 in 2002.
The names of early enrollees reveal success and failure; quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Matthew Stafford made it work. South Carolina signal-caller Stephen Garcia has been arrested multiple times since he first came on campus, and his troubles continue heading into his senior season.
Blakely was not a problem. He was depressed and homesick, according to Manatee assistant coach Rod Frazier.
Dowling was unhappy with lack of playing time, says he never really wanted to go to Florida and turned himself into a problem, which he admits was wrong and immature.
Southeast head football coach Paul Maechtle feels early enrollment might have helped Dowling.
“In his case, not having a football game five weeks away where you are worried about getting a chance to play in front of 80,000 to 100,000 might have helped,” Maechtle said. “He would have gone through spring practice and found out, ‘Oh, I am not as good as this kid.’ It could’ve been a maturing process.”
Manatee head football coach Joe Kinnan doesn’t see much good in early enrollment.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to leave early. My senior year, I would enjoy life for the second semester; that is the fun part,” Kinnan said. “When you are an early enrollee, it’s difficult because you are going in with just a couple of guys, when normally you come in with the whole freshman class. You go from the top of the world to the bottom of the world, but you do it together.”
Maechtle notes that Trey Burton (Venice High) made it work at Florida.
“It works for some and obviously not for others,” he says.
According to sources, Blakely’s release says he can’t sign with another Southeastern Conference school or Florida State or Miami. However, if he goes to a junior college or prep school for a year, he can then sign with anyone. USF is fighting hard to bring him there.
One thing for sure: Early enrollment is a risk.
Heralded quarterback Jeff Driskell enrolled at Florida this winter to get a jump on the competition and struggled leading to speculation that he actually hurt his chances of playing next season.
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-2112.