JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - I’ve been to Oviedo, but I’m not sure I remember it. Apparently, that’s not unusual.
“Kind of like Yulee but not that far away,” is how one Orlando native described it. They have a Target, a mall, movie theaters, all the things you’d expect of a suburb community.
South of Sanford and northeast of Orlando, Oviedo is the home of former JU basketball player Ronnie Murphy. Until recently Murphy was the most famous athlete to come out of Oviedo. Mark Bellhorn, a former MLB player is from there. Olympic runner Jennifer Simpson is also from there.
But now they have a “Blake Bortles Way.”
Not far from Oviedo is the campus of UCF, and that’s where Blake Bortles ended up as a college quarterback.
So with that as a backdrop, it’s not hard to see how Bortles personality has been shaped and his reaction to the bright lights of being in the NFL.
“I really don’t care what anybody says about me, I really don’t,” Blake said earnestly on Wednesday, echoing what he’s said all along. “I care what the guys in our locker room think about me and when they defend me, it’s cool. I’d do the same for them.”
And that’s about it. Honestly.
In his four years as the Jaguars quarterback, Blake has gone from raw rookie to rising star, slumping potential to just terrible. Of course he never been any of those things in reality or in his own mind but that’s how he’s been characterized. The storyline dictates what people think and those have been the storylines over his career.
But to him it doesn’t matter.
Always a “team first” guy, Bortles likes the atmosphere of coming to work with a bunch of guys he knows, laughing and working and getting things done. He was that way when they were losing; he’s that way now that they’re winning.
“The one thing about Blake that I know is that he doesn’t change,” his Head Coach Doug Marrone said recently. “He understands that as well as we all do that you are going to be judged on your performance, and we’re going to have to go out there and play well. When we play well, there’s going to be good things, and if we don’t play well, then there’s going to be bad things. That’s just the nature of the sport that we play.”
While Bortles was brought along in the league by Gus Bradley’s mentoring, it’s been the emphasis on winning and his developing relationship with now Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett that’s helped bring the Jaguars to the AFC Championship game this Sunday.
“He does what it takes,” wide receiver Marqise Lee said in front of his locker. “He needs to run, he’ll run. He needs to scramble, he’ll scramble. Whatever it takes, he’ll do it. Throw it? He’ll throw it, he’s not afraid.”
Under the scrutiny Bortles has been subjected to Lee said he’d have reacted differently.
“I’d have said something people wouldn’t like,” Marqise said with a wide-eyed grin. “I mean, I don’t know how he puts up with it. I’d be completely different.”
“Very impressed,” is how the AFC Defensive Player of the Year Calais Campbell said when asked about the Jaguars quarterback. “Blake is a guy who loves the game of football. He comes to work every day focused and trying to better himself to help the team win. He doesn’t get involved in all of that other stuff. He handles distractions well. He stays focused and keeps playing ball. As a teammate, you look for a guy who is going to keep fighting no matter what happens. During high and lows, he keeps staying even-keeled and doing his thing.”
So how is it that the storyline this week is all about how Tom Brady is the greatest of all time and how Blake Bortles is somewhere closer to the other side of that spectrum?
Two weeks against Buffalo, the Jaguars staff knew Buffalo wasn’t scoring many, if any points and their offensive game plan was mapped out accordingly. No early throws, no turnovers, win the game and advance. They thought it might be 17-6, and while it was 10-3, with the Bills only points coming in a drive where the Jaguars defense gave them 30 yards of unsportsmanlike penalties, the Jaguars plan kept the wraps on the passing game. But the storyline was: Bortles is terrible.
Against Pittsburgh they knew they needed to score some points and that’s when they called on Bortles to get the ball downfield through the air. He responded. The storyline? Blake had a miraculous transformation.
“Did you see him check down to T.J.?” Lee queried about the critical 3rd down check-down completion to T.J. Yeldon in the fourth quarter. “His head was moving. Here? No. Here? No. Here? No. Then he found him. Who does that?”
It’s that kind of respect Bortles craves. In conversation with anybody in the Jaguars locker room they’ll all say the same thing: He’s tough as nails.
Nobody’s going to nickname him “Hollywood Blake.” He’s more comfortable in shorts and a hat, usually worn backwards than anything else. His reputation for socializing might be warranted but he’s never been late, never missed a meeting, never been disciplined by the team.
He’s just Blake. Teammate. And that’s how he likes it.
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