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Homegrown Charity

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Oviedo High grad and Jacksonville Jaguar Blake Bortles stays true to his town.

He may be a starting quarterback in the National Football League, but when Suzy Bortles brags about her son Blake, she loves sharing a story about his time as a volunteer with the Challenger Divisions of the Oviedo Little League baseball program and Oviedo Pop Warner football. Young Blake, a promising Oviedo High School athlete at the time, served as an on-field buddy to a boy with autism, and Blake told the boy’s mother that when he made it big in the NFL, he would make it a priority to do what he could to take care of her son.

“Kathleen [Williams, the boy’s mother] can’t talk about that without crying,” Suzy says. “Blake said it in jest. He was joking. Never in a million years did we think that would happen.”

But it did happen. Blake went on to star at the University of Central Florida, was selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft (third overall) by the Jacksonville Jaguars, and is set to begin his fifth season as the team’s starting quarterback. 
After struggling through three losing seasons, last year Blake led the Jags to their first division title since 1999 and their first winning record (12-7) since 2007. Jacksonville came within one victory of reaching its first Super Bowl, losing to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, 24-20.

This past February, Blake signed a three-year, $54 million contract that will keep him in Jacksonville through the 2020 season. He signed his first contract for $20.6 million over four years, and shortly after that, he started the Blake Bortles Foundation. The Foundation’s primary goal is to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as first responders, in the Oviedo and Jacksonville communities.

“It’s kind of cool that the two causes that our foundation helps support are near and dear to my heart,” says Blake, who graduated from Oviedo High in 2010. “I had those two causes picked before I finished high school. I decided that if I ever have the chance to help out, if I ever make it big in the pros and make some money, I would do what I could to help people like C.J. [his Challenger Division buddy] and first responders.”

Blake, now 26, says the reason he also wanted to help first responders was because all of his Pop Warner and Little League coaches were firefighters, police officers, and sheriffs in Oviedo.

“They played a big part in shaping me,” Blake says. “They really helped me grow and mature, both as a football player and as a good person.”

In recent years, Blake’s foundation has sponsored a celebrity golf tournament and concert series and free youth football camps at Oviedo High School and in Jacksonville. He’s also been responsible for providing free lunches to local firefighters to show his appreciation, and he donates his time and money to Jacksonville’s Guns N’ Hoses Charity Boxing Tournament and The Arc Jacksonville, an organization that works with individuals with mental disabilities to help them achieve independent, fulfilling lives.

Blake meets up with his buddy C.J. Williams at least once a year when C.J. participates in The Arc’s summer program.
“When I first started volunteering in high school, I was just doing it because everybody else was doing it,” Blake admits. “But then I met C.J. and started working with him, and we built a really good relationship. I knew if I ever had the chance to give back financially, I was definitely going to do it.”

Although Blake has proven to be a valuable asset to the Jacksonville community, proving himself on the football field has been a bit more challenging. The Jaguars had a record of 11-37 in his first three seasons, and as the team’s quarterback, Blake shouldered a lot of the blame.

“It has definitely been a challenge,” Blake says. “You go to the NFL, and it’s a dream come true – you’ve reached your goal. But then a whole lot of new goals come into play. You have to find a way to win and be successful.

“Last year we kind of came on the scene and surprised some people,” Blake continues. “But in the NFL, nobody cares what you did the previous season. We have to do it again, and I definitely think we’re capable. It’s exciting, and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Regardless of how many games the Jaguars win this season, Blake’s parents, Suzy and Rob, will remain his biggest fans. It’s still hard for them to believe that both Blake and his younger brother Colby – a minor league baseball player with the Detroit Tigers – are both living their dreams as professional athletes.

“We always thought they were good,” Suzy says, “but we never dreamed that they’d get paid to play what they love. They’re not perfect, but they are good boys, and they are very, very blessed.”

 
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