Mike Blakely picks Florida Gators

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Four-star running back Mike Blakely could contain his excitement no longer.

"Florida is the place that I felt most at home with," Blakely said. "And I'm real excited to call myself a Florida Gator."

And with that the 5-foot-9, 195-pounder pulled off his Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee High School track suit to reveal Gators colors from head to toe. In an announcement that turned out to be more like a ceremony, Blakely, No. 69 in the ESPNU 150, became the 18th commitment to the Gators.

Blakely is the second 2011 Gators commitment in two days, joining four-star defensive end Clay Burton (Venice, Fla./Venice), who was previously committed to Notre Dame. Florida's recruiting class is ranked fifth in the country.

Blakely might also fill the biggest need for Urban Meyer's program -- a dynamic backfield presence who is as versatile as he is explosive.

"Really, Mike can do anything on a football field with a ball in his hands," said Manatee coach Joe Kinnan. "If he were 6-foot-2 he'd probably be one of the top quarterbacks in the nation."

Blakely actually busted onto the scene sharing time at quarterback with Brion Carnes (now at Nebraska) and leading the Hurricanes to a comeback playoff victory over Fort Myers (Fla.) as a freshman.

He began the transition from all-purpose offensive talent to every-down running back as a sophomore and quickly became one of the state's most highly regarded members of the Class of 2011.

His role at Florida will be a mixture of several things, but Blakely is ready for them all.

"The coaches have talked about using me in a role similar to Percy [Harvin]," Blakely said. "But I just want to play. If they need me to run up the middle for 5 yards, I'm going to do that. And when I'm not in the game I'm going to be the loudest cheerleader on the sidelines."

Blakely chose the Gators over Auburn and entertained offers from South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and USC. But this was not an easy decision. In fact, at one point it looked like Auburn had won the battle.

"For a while I was like 90-10 to Auburn," Blakely said. "I loved the offense; I loved how they used the running backs. I had a great time on my official there and I thought it was over."

But Blakely decided to wait things out and explore his options a little while longer. The longer he waited the more things turned in Florida's favor.

"Florida was really fun for Friday Night Lights and then when I went there for a game," Blakely said. "The more I talked to the coaches from each program and started looking deeper into both programs, I began to see where I would be happiest at.

"And I love Auburn. I think both coaching staffs and programs are wonderful. But I felt more at home with Florida and in Gainesville."

Blakely not only fills a big need for Florida, he also gives the Gators' class another personable player who should quickly become a fan favorite.

"He's been a great representative of our program and this school," Kinnan said. "Our players voted him as their team captain and they couldn't have picked a better person.

"Mike will always be part of this program and he's one of the best I've coached."

Blakely said he made the decision about a week ago but kept it to himself, his guardians and Manatee assistant coach Rod Frazier, a former Gators player.

Still he could barely contain his emotions this past Friday when he scored a touchdown against Sarasota (Fla.) Riverview and directed a Gator chomp to Meyer, an interested sideline spectator.

"I'm ready for the first carry, the first hit, the first practice, the first time I can run on to the field," Blakely said. "I'm ready for the whole Florida experience."

Corey Long has been covering high school football and recruiting in the Sunshine State since 1995. He can be reached at coreyespn@gmail.com.