Blake Sailors: Playing for love
College football has been enjoying a steep incline on the graph of popularity, but big money is affecting the game and this fact will have to be addressed in the immediate future.
All too many players don’t arrive on campus sold on the idea of earning a degree. The National Football League is in the forefront of their minds. At some schools — and Georgia’s Mark Richt is a pacesetter — graduation rates are improving, but there are the many who will never give a degree priority in their college careers. All too many believe they will play double-digit years in the NFL and make millions without needing a degree. Unfortunately, very few will enjoy that experience.
Even some superstars’ glory comes to an early end. When it does, they must ask themselves what they will do when the headlines fade away and bad knees compromise compatibility with the aging process.
Then there is Georgia’s Blake Sailors. A walk-on who is playing football for the love of the game. He’s out there in the humidity of late summer and the driving rains and winds of autumn. Mat drills, spring drills. Two-a-days, everyday and holidays.
He earns Scout team honors, never the headlines. He pays his way to play. Like the Marine who fights for the honor of his men, he fights for the honor of playing for Georgia, the ultimate teammate toiling in anonymity. Hard knocks and aches and bruises. Why? Because he loves the game in the traditional sense.
His objective is to enjoy the college experience to the fullest and that includes the glory playing for ole Georgia. Don’t be surprised when, after the Bulldogs win a big home game, you find No. 5 on North Campus ringing the chapel bell. He’s that kind of kid.
His role on special teams is not for the faint of heart: kickoff coverage and gunner on the punt team are his two primary responsibilities. It is his job to be disruptive on kickoffs and to influence the fair catching of punts. Missions are often accomplished with this native of Oconee County.
Blake had several small college options when he finished high school, but there were not any full scholarship offers. In the back of his mind, he didn’t really care because all along he wanted to play for the Bulldogs. A preferred walk-on, Blake was naturally imbued with the Red and Black traditions of the nation’s oldest state chartered university.
His father, David, is a vascular surgeon and one of the team’s doctors. His brother, Josh, is a senior walk-on, and they are roommates, living in the Five Points area.
David, who lettered in track at Georgia, is on the sidelines for all Bulldog games and often nods approval when one of his boys makes a special team play. The father’s attitude has been handed down to his boys. A non-scholarship athlete, David wanted to enjoy athletic competition. He wanted to wear the Georgia “G.” That emotion was passed on to his sons.
The family compound in Oconee Country has a lake in the back yard where bass fishing is an outlet for the boys who can’t wait for deer season.
They often follow this routine in the fall when deer season comes in: early morning before daylight, they can be found in a deer stand, often bringing down a big buck by daylight. After field-dressing the buck, they hurry out of the woods for a morning class—accounting for Blake and pre-medicine for Josh. After lunch it is time for football. Meetings are followed by practice at Woodruff Field, with the autumn leaves turning in the background.
The love of alma mater is something that has been a traditional theme with so many alumni. We see it taking shape in the lives of Blake Sailors and his bother, Josh. The NFL belongs to others. For the Sailors, it is the joy of playing a game they love and singing, “Glory to ole Georgia,” after sundown on a Saturday afternoon.
[For 36 years the sideline radio reporter for the Georgia Bulldogs, Loran Smith now covers a bigger sideline of sports personalities and everyday life in his weekly newspaper columns.]