By Brandyn Campbell, Player Engagement Insider
Crystal Lake Central (IL) offensive tackle Wyatt Blake’s day is typical of the life of a student-athlete. He wakes up at 5:30 to get in weights, then showers and attends classes until 3 pm, after which time he attends practice. In the evenings, he fits in the remainder of his homework and anything else that he must accomplish by the end of the day.
While the structure of his day may be fairly standard, the achievements of the 6-foot-3, 270 lb Blake are anything but ordinary. The talents of individual offensive linemen are frequently overlooked; however, Blake’s strong performance on the field has made people take notice.
In his freshman year, Blake started six games on the varsity team for the Crystal Lake Central Tigers. Thanks to a nomination by former Central coach Matt Fralick, he was honored by being named to the MaxPreps All-American Freshman Team. Then there was the notice of renowned college football authority Tom Lemming, who included Blake in his 2015 Prep Football Report, which some consider the “Bible” of college football recruiting.
Blake knows that success takes place in the classroom as well as on the turf. He works hard to ensure that his academic performance is as strong as his output on the field. To help him achieve this balance, Blake effectively utilizes the resources available to him. He works diligently in study hall to complete as much of his work as possible. He also talks to his teachers for additional support when needed.
There are a few people that Blake identifies as playing a critical role in keeping him grounded. Offensive line coach Steve Spoden has worked with Blake since the player was in fifth grade. Since then, he has become an important mentor. “He teaches me stuff about on the field and off the field, like how to be a leader on my team, how to look better than other guys, and how to take care of my school work,” Blake said of his relationship with Spoden.
The continual love and support of his parents is an integral factor in Blake’s success. “They’ve always been there and always say that they’re proud of me,” Blake said. When the outcome of any of his endeavors is less than ideal, Blake still draws strength from the encouragement of his mother and father. “They will say ‘good job’ and ‘keep working hard’ even if I don’t do well.”
While Blake has a strong support system from which to draw strength and comfort when needed, he views comfort as an obstacle to success. “It’s really easy to get comfortable and stagnant where you are,” he said. “What I try to do is work harder to do whatever it takes to get to the next level and to succeed,” he said.
In fact, the game performance Blake is most proud of indicates his pride in overcoming adversity. In his second varsity game as a freshman, “a bunch of big guys were blocking and running behind me at every play,” Blake recalled. He overcame the pressure with the discipline and focus he’s worked hard to develop. “I was kind of in a zone and thought to myself, “Alright let’s just keep going,” he remembered. “I wasn’t thinking about doing anything other than putting this guy on the other side of me.” And that’s exactly what he did.
His belief in progress through pushing himself hard lends itself to Blake’s leadership qualities. “Leadership doesn’t always have to be vocal,” he said. “My style is to set an example, and then if someone has to say something to say, then say it.”
Blake hopes that his performance and leadership can help his team take their success to the next level next year by winning a state championship. He’s not shy about how important this goal is to him. “I want it really bad.”
For now, Blake’s afternoon practices in the winter are for the basketball team. He takes his participation in the NFL Prep Academy as, “A sign that I’m doing something right.” The opportunity to learn from those at all levels of the game is an invaluable opportunity that will lend itself to his personal growth, as well as that of his teammates at Crystal Lake. “I get to learn a bunch of leadership skills that I can bring back to my guys, which will make us all stronger.”
Strong enough, Blake hopes, to get that championship next season.