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From Cali to Florida and everything in between: The Elijah Blades Story

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

Elijah Blades is the latest member of the Florida Gators to arrive on campus going through his first official practice as a Gator on August 14th but before that happened the Stadium and Gale team of Harrison Whittle and myself were able to sit down with Elijah and talk about his journey to finally becoming a student-athlete at Florida. Blades, as I’m sure many of you know, was a big-time recruit in the 2017 class that was committed to the Gators for just over 6 months during his recruitment and it seemed like a decision that he was very happy with. "Growing up I was actually a big Florida fan, I used to watch Tebow and all those teams," Blades said. "I was even competing with everybody telling everybody Florida is DBU and I played DB so when they offered it fell into me and it was my dream school and it felt like it was the right fit for me.” He was going to be joining a talented defensive back class that cycle that included fellow four-star prospects CJ Henderson and Marco Wilson who are now in the NFL, “I was gonna come in with CJ and Marco, the game plan was to come in and we were all gonna play early so it was the best fit for me. But took a different route [in the end].” That “different route” saw Elijah decommit from the Gators just a week before National Signing Day and sign with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Unfortunately, he never made it to Lincoln and eventually ended up enrolling at Arizona Western College in Yuma, Arizona, where he became the number one junior college cornerback in the country, but it was a grind for Elijah. Having to attend junior college when you were just one of the top high school defensive backs in the country can be a very humbling experience and he learned a lot from that. “I’m not gonna lie juco is tough, it puts you in a humble state of mind just knowing that you could have had it all and you gotta go fight for it again and this next time it’s either do or die," Blades said. "So, I feel like just going through juco, being around the same kind of guys as you that sometimes did the same things you did (had offers and didn’t have the grades) I will definitely say it humbles you, makes you want to work harder, and appreciate more things in life. It shows you a lot of people’s true colors and gives you more insight on what you really need to do for yourself and your family.” But Elijah was able to stick to the grind and excel at Arizona Western picking up offers from schools like Alabama, Oregon, LSU, Florida, the hometown USC Trojans, and his eventual landing spot Texas A&M along the way. A lot of California kids elect to stay home and play for either USC or UCLA, it’s not often one of the top Cali kids makes the trek halfway across the country like Elijah did when he decided to attend Texas A&M. But he said leaving home for juco and another reason made it a bit easier for him to leave. “I would say the biggest factor for me is just where I come from there’s a lot of negativity and stuff you wouldn’t want to be around. So, for me USC and UCLA that wasn’t something that I really needed in my life because it was so close to home [and those distractions].” Blades played in seven games as a Junior at Texas A&M but felt like he wasn’t playing at full strength, so he made the decision to opt out of the 2020 football season to focus on trying to get healthy and work on his game and take it to the next level. “When I opted out I went back home to California and was in Arizona also training with a DB coach and I just got better over time. What I wanted to focus on was more of my technique, my old coach at A&M Coach Mo [Maurice Linguist, current HC at Buffalo] that’s what he really emphasized was technique every play, every down so that’s what I wanted to get better," Blades said. "Over time I got better speed wise, more flexibility, I just [worked on being] smarter mentally on the field and off the field. I feel like I turned my game up a notch, I don’t really wanna do a lot of talking but I feel like I got better. It was really just injuries that held me back but I’m better now and I feel like I turned it up.” When Blades made the decision to leave Texas A&M there was really only one school he wanted to attend. What made Florida the right fit at this time in his career? “[Florida] needed somebody to step in now, they needed an older guy," he said. "I feel like it’s the right decision, I’ve been wanting to come here. Coach Grantham has told me he wanted me here, I know Grantham, I know [Coach Mullen] from at juco and honestly wasn’t really trying to go anywhere else. I feel like this is the best decision for me draft stock wise, team wise; we’ve got a chance to do something in the SEC and that’s why I came here.” Though Elijah knew he wanted to be a Gator, Coach Mullen and Coach Grantham did a good job explaining their plan for him and what they needed from the veteran SEC DB, “they told me I have a chance to come in and compete and get in the starting role. Coach Mullen wants someone that compete and give them a dog on the other side.” Blades said. “We’ve got Kaiir [Elam], Jaydon [Hill] is down right now and then we have a lot of young pups so it’s time to step up. So, the role is just to come in and be that dog like previous corners, that’s what the expectation is.” With his role pretty well defined by the coaching staff I asked Elijah what his goals and expectations are both for the team and for himself in the upcoming season. “My expectations are really just to come in and be a team player, come in and win games for them, just be that standout guy and show everybody I’m one of the best corners in this league," he said. "And my goals for this season, I’m coming for that Thorpe [trophy awarded to the top defensive back in the country] most definitely. Individual goals I would say 6-7 interceptions, and then team goals SEC championship, get to the playoffs, win the national championship, and just win as a group. It’s not an individual thing, just come together and be there for each other.” The Gators already have one player on the Thorpe Award watchlist heading into the season in Junior cornerback Kaiir Elam, so with Blades wanting to hoist that trophy at the end of the year there will plenty of competition in practice every day. But as the saying goes iron sharpens iron. “We will most definitely be competing. Like I tell him when we work out, we’re coming, we’re trying to be the best corners in the SEC. At the end of the day it’s a competing thing, like I’m gonna tell them every day at practice we’re competing. It’s not just us, it’s us and the nation.”

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