Fall camp was just a few days old when Desmond Blue chose to give up football.
There was something bigger on his mind: his son Taylen.
So Blue, who was entering his sophomore season with junior college program New Mexico Military Institute, packed up and vanished from the New Mexico desert for the Florida sunshine.
“I just left in the middle of night and didn’t tell anybody,” Blue said.
A former Bradenton Herald All-Area Defensive Player of the Year with Southeast High School, Blue wasn’t likely to play his best sport again.
But getting a second chance paved the way for Blue to position himself as a possible future pro and a college graduate to provide for Taylen should his NFL dream not happen.
“I got a 3.0 (grade point average) this past semester,” Blue said. “I improved a lot in my grades. ... (first time) in my life. ... It was a great feeling. I told my parents. They were really happy for me.”
Coming out of high school, the knock on Blue was his size. It certainly wasn’t his skill. He’s the only two-time Southeast High most valuable defensive player, earning the golden helmet award in 2009 and 2010.
That’s high praise considering the school’s tradition, with standout defensive players that were either all-state selections, Division I stars or made it to the NFL.
Nobody from Southeast’s more recent star-studded secondary, including Atlanta Falcons’ Brian Poole and two NFL players that had their seasons cut short in training camp with torn anterior cruciate ligaments, Mike Jenkins and Jonathan Dowling, won the program’s defensive player of the year more than once.
So Blue was obviously in line to sign with a big-time Division I program.
Wrapping up high school football in the fall of 2010, Blue, who stood 5-foot-10 and weighed 185 pounds at the time, had nowhere to play.
He found a job and started working following his graduation in 2011.
Former teammate, quarterback Dyron Speight, was shocked Blue wasn’t playing. Speight was at Western Kentucky at the time and got Palmetto native Ray Woodie, South Florida’s defensive coordinator who was an assistant at WKU at the time, involved. Woodie, who set up a pipeline for area players to play junior college football in New Mexico, got Blue on his way to NMMI in January 2012.
“He called the coach. Two days later, (NMMI head coach Joe) Forchtner called me up and I had a scholarship,” Blue said. “I was back playing football. I was happy.”
Blue’s first season at NMMI showcased his versatility.
He moved from linebacker to the secondary during his freshman year. Challenge accepted. Blue tied for first among JUCO safeties with 85 tackles alongside Northeastern Oklahoma A&M’s Keishawn Richardson.
“It’s a feel-good story, because Desmond Blue was electric as an athlete either carrying the ball (as a running back) or playing linebacker,” former Southeast High head coach Paul Maechtle said. “We just had better needs for him on defense, and he just ran to the football. He was so quick and strong, and he just made life miserable for offenses.”
Blue, though, had a son to worry about. Being a college athlete didn’t provide money to take care of Taylen.
It came to a head in August 2013, just four days into camp. Blue left New Mexico, returning to Florida and becoming a custodian for the Manatee County School Board and working in a warehouse in Sarasota.
“Knowing that I had a son, I had to make some money,” Blue said. “But it was really tough. I kept watching football. Just kept watching it Sundays and Saturday nights, and I was like, ‘I’ve got to get back into football.’”
Seeing Poole and Dowling, two former teammates, do well in college and get to the NFL also fueled Blue’s desire.
Knowing that I had a son, I had to make some money. But it was really tough. I kept watching football. Just kept watching it Sundays and Saturday nights, and I was like, 'I've got to get back into football.’
Desmond Blue, former Southeast High star on returning to college football after leaving the game to take care of his son.
“I was up there with them, one of the best players on the team right along with them,” Blue said. “And hearing their names, it just got to me. I could do this, too. If they can do it, I can do it, too.”
One of Blue’s former assistant coaches at Southeast High, current Palmetto assistant Matt Braselton motivated Blue as well.
“I would see him and talk to him and be like, ‘What are you doing, dude? You were a Bright House player of the year,” Braselton said. “I’m like, ‘You need to go play.’”
So Blue bit the bullet and called Forchtner, his coach at NMMI, in October 2014. They hashed out the way he left at Palmetto’s Lincoln Park during Forchtner’s already planned visit to the area, and Blue was given a second chance. Forchtner brought him back to the Broncos in January 2015.
“The way I bailed, it was a big risk,” Blue said. “I didn’t let them know, I just left the school and that was a bad way of doing it. It was really bad, but he forgave me and understood what was going on.”
He excelled in his sophomore season, which landed him a scholarship at Eastern New Mexico, a Division II program, in Jan. 2016.
This past season, Blue’s role as a nickel back yielded defensive stats in almost every category. He was Eastern New Mexico’s second-leading tackler with 62. Blue added 12 tackles for a loss, five sacks, one fumble recovery, two interceptions, four quarterback hurries and six pass breakups to garner All-Conference second team honors.
Blue has blossomed, growing a few more inches and adding more muscle.
He’s 6-foot-1 and 223 pounds, and he’s not slowing down. He is hitting the weights while he’s home on break and during the offseason is a top priority to position himself for NFL scouts come his senior season next fall.
And he doesn’t have to worry about leaving Taylen, who is now 5 years old, behind, either.
“He understands what I’m doing,” Blue said. “He’s just like, ‘Stick with it dad. I know you love football, dad.’”