Stetson football player Nick Blakely mourned by friends, family, teammates

Monday, August 28, 2017

Stetson football player Nick Blakely mourned by friends, family, teammates

Fighting back tears, Stetson University football coach Roger Hughes described how athletic trainers tried to revive Nick Blakely when the 19-year-old sophomore collapsed during practice.

“The effort to save Nick was nothing less than heroic,” Hughes said Tuesday.

Blakely, an accounting major from Lawrenceville, Ga., said he felt light-headed during a workout Monday afternoon. Team trainers pulled him from the drills and watched the linebacker for 30 to 40 minutes when he started to show signs of recovery. Then, Blakely suddenly passed out.

Trainers started CPR and used an automated defibrillator before an ambulance arrived six minutes later, the school said. Blakely was then taken to Florida Hospital DeLand, where he died.

His cause of death is not yet known, but Blakely’s passing left teammates and others on the small 3,000-student campus shocked.

Nick Blakely, Stetson Football

“Obviously it’s not an easy time,” Stetson quarterback Gaven DeFilippo said. “We’re grieving.”

Blakely was remembered Tuesday as being friendly off the field and eager to succeed on it. He was known for his infectious smile and ability to make anyone he met laugh.

“He could just light up a room,” DeFilippo said. “... He’s a competitive guy. He was going to give you your best shot every play. He was a great teammate, a great person and he will be missed every day.”


Stetson relaunched its football program four years ago after a 56-year hiatus and plays in the NCAA’s small-school Football Championship Subdivision. It is the first college in Florida to have a football player die since Ereck Plancher collapsed after a workout at UCF in 2008.

Despite Blakely’s death, the Hatters will open their season as scheduled Saturday against Sacred Heart in Fairfield, Conn. Hughes said there was little debate about not playing the game this weekend.

“… As we started to discuss what was going on, certainly the thought came up,” said Hughes, who often gets emotional talking about his obligation to help his players form a strong team to make Stetson and DeLand proud.

“We put all the options out in front of us and said, ‘Let’s not exclude anything.’ I don’t think that was on the table for very long.”

The players said they want to play the game in Blakely’s memory.

“He would want us to keep smiling, or at least try to and that’s what we’re going to do,” said Dre Long, a captain and defensive back who is a graduate student. “He redshirted last season and he was looking forward to his first game. He was really excited about it and we were, too. … We can only double that now and magnify it and go out there and try to play our hardest. Not just for us, but for him.”

Soon after Blakely died, word spread to the player’s network of friends back in Georgia.

He is survived by father, Milton Blakely; mother, Michelle Wilson; brothers, Ryan Brown and Jared Blakely; and sisters, Shayla and Paige Blakely.

Most people close to the football player immediately thought of Blakely’s mother, who cheered the loudest at all her son’s football games. There was an age gap between the player and his siblings, but the entire family was close and often played board games, friends said.

None of his relatives shared as close of a connection as Blakely nurtured with his mother, a person many considered his best friend.

On Aug. 15, Blakely posted a message on his Twitter account that read, “Moms told me I could do all things thru Christ who strengthens me so this year for her.”

Blakely was a three-year letter winner at Archer High in Lawrenceville, about 45 minutes northeast of Atlanta. He was a strong football and track and field athlete who also excelled in the classroom. His former coaches said he was “healthy as an ox.” His friends described him as someone who mostly ate healthy foods and could not recall him getting sick.

When asked for more details Tuesday, Hughes stressed there were no indications Blakely had any health problems.

Hughes noted the players had been given a nearly 36-hour break from workouts before Monday’s session. He said practice conditions were among the best of the preseason, with limited heat and light contact as the team prepared for its opening game.

Now, many of Blakely’s friends are left to wonder what exactly happened.

“He was a good guy. He was funny. He was always happy,” said Keely Jackson, who formed a close bond with Blakely when they were in high school and often prayed with him she she faced difficult moments in her life. “He was the life of the party. He never met a stranger. Everyone loved him.”

Donovan Barker, a fourth-grade teacher who coaches the freshman football team at Archer High, took the day off Tuesday because he couldn’t focus on work after learning of Blakely’s death.

“I just want you all to know that he was a great and humble person,” Barker said.

“He loved his family and friends. We definitely adored him when he was here. He did everything that you wanted him to do and he did it with a smile. He impacted all of our lives greatly.”

Barker vowed to tell both his fourth-grade students and his Carver Tiger football players about Blakely.

“I'm definitely going to stress I'm going to start living my life for Nick Blakely,” Barker said. “They need to know he was a great Tiger in the classroom and a great Tiger in everything he did. I want to honor that.”;

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