SLAYTON — When it comes to college football, the Jersey Gators will never be confused with, say, the Florida Gators.
But for some overlooked high school athletes, the college prep school located in Pitman, N.J., could provide the means to a football career in the big-time.
That’s what Murray County Central senior star Blake Schmitz believes.
Schmitz, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound quarterback, recently committed to the Jersey Gators and the school’s six-month curriculum during which athletes will attend classes, play football and try to earn scholarships at NCAA Division I schools.
“This is a unique opportunity for Blake,” says MCC football coach Patrick Freeman. “After speaking with their coach, they are ecstatic to have him on the team. Blake has a dream of playing Division I football and this prep academy gives him an opportunity to fulfill that dream.”
Schmitz is a talented multi-sport athlete.
“He is a dual-threat quarterback who can run and throw,” Freeman says. “He’s a great athlete that has high expectations for himself.”
He had an offer to join the Division I (FCS level) program at Furman University in South Carolina. But because of COVID and the NCAA’s decision to give graduating seniors an additional year of eligibility, some incoming freshmen lost their scholarships.
That’s what happened to Blake, who considered ending his athletic career to pursue a business degree.
Then coaches for the New Jersey school contacted him.
“It’s a post-graduate football school and their goal is to be a stepping stone so that I can get a college offer,” Blake says. “I’ve always wanted to be at a higher level of college ball. I love the smaller level where I’m at now in high school, how we grew up in a small community and we all love each other, but I’d really like to test my limits.
“I’ve always kind of wanted to study abroad and travel. This is only six months. So hopefully I can prove myself in football, meet new people and see new places, and play well.”
Blake says the Jersey Gators will play various freshmen or junior varsity teams, including one from Army. He realizes the competition level will be a significant jump from the Red Rock Conference.
But Blake does not shrink from a challenge, as his pals at MCC, of which there are plenty, certainly realize.
“You never want to take what Blake says too serious,” says MCC teammate Rylan Behnke with a grin. “He likes to joke around, he likes to have a great time and I think everybody admires that in him. But at the same time, when there’s work to get done, it’s going to get done.”
Behnke was a Globe All-Area football selection and plans to focus on his pre-med curriculum at the University of South Dakota.
“The growth I’ve seen in Blake as far as a leader with his work ethic in the past year and a half has been just crazy. It’s awesome,” Rylan says.
Schmitz can run or pass with equal effectiveness. He led the Rebels to a 6-1 record last fall, throwing for 948 yards and eight touchdowns while running for 350 yards and six scores.
Along with fellow seniors Dylan Johnson, who will play football at Dakota State, and Behnke, Schmitz sparked MCC to a fine fall on the gridiron.
Schmitz was named All-Area second team and all-Red Rock Conference in basketball.
He is a slender athlete with fine speed and jumping ability. This spring, Schmitz has had abundant success while running the hurdles for the Rebel track team.
The hope is he continues to prosper on the East Coast for the Jersey Gators.
“We wish Blake nothing but the best, for sure,” Behnke says. “It’s definitely a different opportunity. People don’t know a lot about it, but it sounds like it’s something that’s growing for kids in smaller towns that didn’t maybe get the college opportunities that those in the bigger towns did.”
Freeman and his players are happy for their former quarterback and his plans.
“As a coach I am really proud of Blake,” Freeman says. “He is a three-sport athlete that applies himself to be the best he can be. I am really looking forward to see where life takes him and his football career.”