Coveted running back commits to Florida


Manatee High running back Mike Blakely announces his decision to go to the University of Florida alongside his educational guardian Karen Peacock at Manatee High in Bradenton on Tuesday, October 25, 2010. (Photo from SNN6/Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

Published: Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 9:21 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 9:21 a.m.

Mike Blakely remembers telling Bradenton Manatee coach Joe Kinnan about his college plans back when he was a sophomore.

Two years ago, Manatee's running back told his coach he'd sign with Florida if he was ever offered by the Gators' staff.

Well, Florida offered, and after silently committing to the staff last week, Blakely held his word and became Florida's 18th commitment of the 2011 class when he made his public verbal pledge during a ceremony at Manatee Tuesday.

"Florida, I love Florida," said Blakely, whom Rivals.com rates as a four-star prospect and the seventh-best running back in the country.

"The atmosphere is crazy, the orange and blue. I've always liked Florida."

Though Florida was in the lead for most of Blakely's recruitment, the Gators weren't the lock he expected them to be once he started getting more attention from other schools.

By his senior year, Blakely collected around 20 major college offers, forcing him to slow down the recruiting process. The Gators still held a slight lead after the summer, but Florida appeared to relinquish that lead to Auburn shortly after Blakely's season started.

Once Auburn leapfrogged Florida, rumors spread that Blakely was actually a "silent" commitment to the Tigers.

Blakely said those were just rumors and nothing more.

Now, Blakely is not only happy being a Gator, he's pleased to be done with the recruiting process.

"It's been a hassle," he said. "I've been talking to people for a long time. I'm tired of it."

Blakely has been an intricate part to Manatee's offense since he was the team's quarterback when he was in ninth grade. Once Blakely made the permanent move to running back, he became an even deadlier weapon for Kinnan to use.

"When he's in the backfield, he's something special," Kinnan said. "He's got great football awareness. He understands all the positions, so he knows what everyone is doing."

As a junior, Blakely rushed for 1,400 yards and combined for 23 touchdowns — rushing, receiving and on punt and kick returns.

With Florida's struggles in the running game, Blakely said he feels he could be an asset in Florida's offense early in his college career. At 5-foot-9, 192 pounds, Blakely said it won't matter if Florida converts solely to the spread offense or continues to use more of the I-formation.

"No matter if they go to the 'I' or the spread I'm still going to play," he said.

Aside from Auburn, Blakely also considered Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee.

This has been a productive two days for Florida recruiting. Monday, the Gators added Venice teammates Clay Burton and Omari Phillips.

Burton, the younger brother of current freshman quarterback Trey Burton, could play either defensive end or tight end in college. Phillips is a 2012 prospect who could play either defensive or offensive tackle.

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