High School Football

2013 Football Offensive Player of the Year: Eric Blakely, RB, Beaufort High School

sfastenau@beaufortgazette.comDecember 24, 2013 

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Beaufort High School's Eric Blakely runs downfield during the Eagles' first-round playoff win this season. Blakely was chosen the 2013 Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette Football Offensive Player of the Year.

SARAH WELLIVER — Sarah Welliver Buy Photo

The football field looked different in early December. A bright-green hue the result of winter rye and gouges throughout from soccer practice.

Eric Blakely retraced the steps of one of his most memorable runs from his final football season at Beaufort High School. He knows them well, the video footage stored to his iPhone and viewed many times since.

Blakely stops on the field at the point the home bleachers start. He guesses this was the line of scrimmage.

The painted lines had long since worn away, but the Eagles had the ball on their own 42, with only a touchdown lead on rival Bluffton High School.

The call was "Right 53." Blakely lined up to the right of quarterback Ben Vaigneur in shotgun formation, took the handoff and settled in behind a pulling guard motoring left.

Bluffton defenders stopped the play cold. That's the way it looked, anyway, until Blakely emerged to the outside and raced down the sideline for a score.

No one was catching Blakely, a sprinter on the Beaufort High track team. His 18 rushing touchdowns were highlighted by runs in which defenders thought they had an angle to Blakely on the sideline, only to have the back disappear before they arrived at the spot.

Blakely took pleasure in surprising folks.

The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet's Football Offensive Player of the Year wasn't the most heralded back on the Beaufort High junior varsity team. When Beaufort High coach Mark Clifford chose seniors in the spring to travel to the Shrine Bowl combine used for picking all-star players later in the year, Blakely wasn't among them.

But maybe everyone should have seen this coming.

Blakely is among the strongest players on a perenniallly bulky Beaufort High team. He is also the fastest, although the quantifiable evidence might be hard to produce.

"He's the fastest out on this football field, that's for danggone sure," Clifford said. "I don't know if he's the fastest if I just lined them up and ran the 40, but on this football field, he was the fastest one we had."

The Bluffton run was significant in that it was at home to help beat a rival, but there were more with the same blueprint. Ashley Ridge, Summerville, Colleton County -- runs when Blakely should have been stopped early in the play but sped off undetected.

The success of those big runs could be traced to practice drills in which the backs navigate a series of heavy bags before shuttling out the other side. The first few repititions early in the season, players jogged. Clifford yelled for them to go full speed.

Blakely was built for speed. He took an unconventional stance in the backfield, standing with his right leg extended behind him, as if he was ready to push off blocks on the track.

Speed fueled Beaufort High's new-look offense, and Blakely obliged.

Nagging injuries slowed but didn't stop Blakely. He had fully recovered from a calf injury before taking the field at North Augusta for the Eagles' second-round playoff game.

It was then his season ended with a high ankle sprain during the second half. Blakely's will to play was trumped by the seriousness of the injury.

"Believe me, I tried putting my cleat back on, tape, everything," said Blakely, who finished with 1,594 yards. "I couldn't."

Still, the senior had helped the Eagles author a season few expected. He hopes to continue playing football at The Citadel, either with the help of a football scholarship or the National Guard, and continue to a career in service.

Even if Blakely has played his last down, he has the memory of a successful season. And a reminder on his iPhone.

"It was a season where I felt most comfortable as a family," Blakely said. "We really got to know each other a lot, through hard times, through good times. It was all love this year, and I guess it really showed."

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