Sept. 19, 2011
By Jeff Brown
Baylor's 2011 offensive line is anchored by a junior college transfer from Canada who was a first-round CFL pick but started playing football late in life.
No, Danny Watkins didn't return for another go. This year, it's senior center Philip Blake who's at the heart of the Baylor line. But like Watkins, he hopes to continue the recent run of Bears who have moved from Baylor's O-line to the NFL.
"That was my goal coming down here, to try and get to the NFL," said the 6-foot-3, 320-pound Blake. "I'm happy for Danny that he's in there, and J.D. [Walton of the Denver Broncos] before that, and Jason Smith [of the St. Louis Rams]. They kind of set up a pipeline so scouts will come in and see our good offensive linemen."
Blake says he's dreamed of playing in the NFL since he was a child. Yet, the Toronto native never set foot on a football field - of either the 100- or 110-yard varieties - until the summer before his senior year of high school.
"There wasn't any one sport that I focused on [as a child]," he recalls. "Mainly I played whatever I could - basketball, hockey, soccer. I loved watching football - the CFL or NFL - but mainly hockey when I was younger. My mom used to buy me the video games like Madden, and I would create myself and play.
"When I started high school, I think I was like 160 or 170 [pounds]. By 11th grade, I was 3-something. A lot of fast food. I was so big that my cousin and brother used to make fun of me.
"One of my friends asked if I wanted to play summer league football, and I said, `Alright.' I came out and played summer league, and then I transferred because the high school I attended didn't have football."
Blake's trek to Baylor began with his efforts to follow another Canadian's path. While head coach at Houston, Art Briles had recruited a friend of Blake's from Canada. After Blake submitted some video, Briles became interested in the unpolished lineman, but Blake wasn't yet eligible.
"So, I went to UH Downtown; I was going to go in and take 18 hours," Blake explains. "But during that time, Coach Briles moved to Baylor. I figured I'd go to Baylor, but then I learned that Conference USA and the Big 12 have different eligibility rules. So I figured I'd get my 18 hours [at UH Downtown], transfer it to a juco, and get six more hours there to make 24. But they said, `No, you need to graduate juco.' So I did that and finally got to Baylor."
After a semester at UH Downtown and a year and a half at Tyler (Texas) Junior College, Blake joined the Bears in the fall of 2009 and started all 12 games at right tackle as a sophomore.
As a junior last fall, Blake took over at center from Walton (who moved right into a starting spot with the Broncos). Blake again started every game, earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors and anchoring an offensive line that ranked third in the Big 12 and 24th nationally in rushing.
As a senior starter, and with more starts than anyone on the team except Kendall Wright and Robert Griffin III, Blake realizes he's being looked to as a leader.
"It's kind of hard [to see myself as a leader], because I haven't been playing football very long," he says. "I'm not a very vocal person, so I try to lead by my actions. You have to show [the younger players], `This is what we expect you to do here.'"
Having earned his degree in August, once this season is complete, Blake will start to focus on what's next. Someday, he says, he'd like to go into coaching, probably at the high school level.
"I've been through a lot of coaches who have coached me, and I'd like to experience that myself. Coaches have always taken me in and told me what I needed to do, kind of being father figures to me. That's my motivation for wanting to be a coach."
But first up is professional football. Blake was selected 23rd overall in the 2011 CFL Canadian Draft by the Montreal Alouettes and was named to the preseason watch list for the 2011 Rimington Trophy (given to college football's best center), so he's clearly got a shot at following Smith, Walton, Watkins and others to the NFL.
Just another link in That Good Old Baylor (Offensive) Line.