Blake with his parents Suzy and Rob
When it came to playing sports, Blake and his younger brother, Colby, basically had free reign inside and outside the Bortles home. When the brothers were young, their living room/dining room area was transformed into a game room, and the boys put it to good use.
It was a great environment for Blake, who would become a star quarterback at Oviedo High School. He signed to play football at the University of Central Florida in 2010, and last year – as a redshirt sophomore – Blake had a breakout season, passing for more than 3,000 yards and leading the Knights to a 10-4 record, including a bowl game victory.
“[That playroom at home] definitely helped me out,” Blake, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior says with a smile. “We would play every sport, every day. It was like a triathlon – playing football, baseball, and basketball. Anything we could compete in. I was very fortunate to be able to do that and not have our mom and dad scared that we were going to break something around the house!”
Blake’s parents went out of their way to make the Bortles home kid- and sports-friendly. Blake and Colby – who will play baseball at the University of Mississippi this season – would bring their friends over to play in what they called the IBL (Indoor Baseball League), batting ping-pong balls with racquetball rackets.
“Slowly, but surely, I stopped buying anything that was breakable,” says Suzy with a laugh. “We had a ping-pong table and a plastic basketball goal in the living room. I don’t think we ever had a coffee table. The kids were always playing ball in our house, and we didn’t want them to get hurt.”
Suzy played competitive softball when she was in high school, and Rob was a wrestler and football player. So, Blake definitely has athletic genes.
“Blake’s uncle brought him a glove and baseball at the hospital after I had him,” Suzy says, “and things kind of blossomed from there. From the beginning, he always had good hands.”
Blake, 21, started playing flag football when he was 6 years old, and by the time he was 9, he was strapping on the pads to play for the Oviedo Pop Warner football league. Rob, who played college football at Georgia Southern (Suzy was a cheerleader), coached his son from age 10 until Blake went to high school.
“He was easy to coach,” Rob says. “But I would’ve bet money that he’d never play quarterback, because he loved contact. I put him at linebacker, because I played linebacker and that was what I knew, and he was good at it.”
Blake played a few games at quarterback during his final year of Pop Warner, and “he didn’t like it,” says Rob. Blake found himself back at that position when he showed up for his freshman year at Oviedo. Blake had grown about six inches the previous summer, to 6-3, and the freshman team needed a quarterback.
Clearly, it all worked out for the best. Blake ended up becoming Seminole County’s all-time leading passer, throwing for 5,576 yards and 53 touchdowns during his high-school career. At UCF, Blake saw enough action in his redshirt freshman year to pass for 958 yards and six touchdowns. Last year, as the team’s starter, he completed 251-of-399 passes for 3,059 yards with 25 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
Blake had the best season for a UCF quarterback in more than 10 years. He was voted to the All-Conference USA Second Team – the first UCF quarterback in school history to be named to a conference’s first or second team – and was named Most Valuable Player at the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg. Blake was also named Most Improved Offensive Player at the UCF Football Awards Banquet.
“Blake Bortles is a great credit to the City of Oviedo, and not just on the athletic field,” UCF Coach George O’Leary says. “I expect great things from him at UCF and in the future. The people of Oviedo should be very proud of his accomplishments. I know he’ll always keep Oviedo close to his heart.”
Oviedo should be bursting with pride this fall, considering that not one, but two local products will be quarterbacking the football teams at the state’s two largest universities. In addition to Blake, Hagerty High graduate Jeff Driskel will be in his second season calling the plays at the University of Florida.
“Blake and I go way back,” Jeff says. “We played on the same travel baseball team one summer, and we played a lot against each other. He’s a good friend of mine, and it’s cool to see both of us being successful. I wish him all the best at UCF.”
Blake and Jeff grew up just five miles apart. On the football field, they both had big victories against each other. During Jeff’s sophomore year in 2008, Hagerty’s 35-28 win over Oviedo was the first ever for the new school. The following season, when Blake was a senior, he guided the OHS Lions to a big 55-14 win over Hagerty.
“It’s pretty awesome to see how far we’ve come and the things we’ve accomplished,” Blake says. “We were about 10 or 11 when we met, and we played the same sports growing up. Now we’re playing college football in the same state, and we’ve both been successful so far. Jeff is a great kid, and I wish him the best the next couple of years.”
As for his next two years, Blake is hoping to bring more success to the UCF program, which begins play in the new American Athletic Conference this season.
“Our number one goal is to win every game we play and win the conference,” says Blake, who will soon earn his degree in Interpersonal/Organizational Communication. “Last year we had a good season, but this year I think we can really come on the scene. We have a talented team, and I think this can be a special year. I’m really looking forward to it.”