You don’t get your name in the paper. You don’t score touchdowns. You rarely get praised except from those who really understand the game.
For some though there’s nothing more exhilarating than the one-on-one battle in the trenches during each play of a football game.
For one Bradley County native his success in those battles has gotten his foot in the door and a chance to continue the “mono-on-mono” tussles on a much bigger stage.
After four years of being a key ingredient in the turnaround of the Bradley Central football program, Blake McAmis leaves Monday with an opportunity to be a part of another rebuilding process — this one in Knoxville.
The 6-foot-2, 290-pounder anchored the Bear offensive line for the last three seasons and will battle as an invited walk-on for a chance to play for the University of Tennessee and new head coach Derek Dooley.
“I just want a chance to show the coaches that I’m one of the best up there and deserve to be on the field,” stated the confident young man.
“Blake is one who has dedicated himself to the weight room. He has continually improved as a player,” remarked Bradley head coach Damon Floyd. “He has overcome a lot of obstacles to get where he is. Nothing has been given to him. Now he’s facing some new challenges and I’m excited for him to get this opportunity.”
After watching Bear game film, UT Director of Football Operations Kyle Strongin green-lighted McAmis’ opportunity to walk on to the Vol football team.
“He told me they need plenty of offensive linemen,” related Blake’s dad Brian McAmis, who has been the one in contact with Strongin. “They can’t officially talk with Blake until he is enrolled in school but once he gets in his dorm room Monday, he is to report to the training facility at 6:30 Tuesday morning.”
“The whole team (120-130 players) is supposed to be there, walk-ons and all,” Blake added. “They have a very intense training and conditioning program, but I’ve been preparing for this for the last several years. I feel ready.”
In fact, McAmis showed signs early of wanting to carry on the family gridiron tradition. “When he was a fifth grader he’d ride the bus to Bradley four days a week and work out in the weight room with the high school team,” his father, who played for the Bears in the mid-1980s, stated.
After three years on the Lake Forest team, McAmis donned the Black-and-Gold and six games into his freshman season was in the starting varsity lineup.
“The starting center went down with an injury in the McMinn County game. Blake went in and has started ever since,” the elder McAmis explained.
“He came in and did a great job in a tough situation,” Floyd confirmed. “Even though he had to battle some injuries, he has played through the pain and and did a great job for us.”
Bouncing back from an injury in practice that cost him the Oak Ridge game his junior season, McAmis worked out as much as three times a day during his senior season, but still had to battle the injury bug.
Despite breaking his right hand in the season-opening game against Polk County, he continued to play and tore his cast off so it wouldn’t hamper him in the Bears’ 27-26 defeat of cross-town rival Cleveland High two weeks later.
Midway through the season a Soddy-Daisy defensive lineman landed on his ankle, tearing the ligaments.
The following week in the mud against McMinn County, McAmis sliced his hand on a Cherokee helmet, but finished the game before going to the emergency room for 16 stitches.
“I didn’t know he cut his hand until after the game,” Floyd related. “He just had them tape it up and went back in.”
With a fear of infection, McAmis was forced to sit out the next game against Ooltewah. “He really wanted to play that game to show what he could do against Jacques (Smith, a Tennessee signee),” his dad related.
He was able to return for the season finale against Walker Valley. “From the fourth week on I wasn’t allowed to practice during the week,” Blake explained. “I would participate in the Thursday walk-through and play on Fridays, but the rest of the time I was usually in the trainer’s room.”
“Blake did a lot of things for us people never saw,” Floyd declared. “He had a lot on his shoulders. He was responsible for reading the defensive alignment and making our offensive line calls on each play.”
“He’s a very smart player and knows the game extremely well,” the Bear mentor added. “There are a lot of players who are able to walk on to college teams and earn playing time. He has the drive and determination to be one of those guys.”
While he admits the speed of the college game will be one of his biggest challenges to adjust to, McAmis feels his strength training will be a positive.
Still working out with the current Bear players, he has also been going to Chattanooga to work with former Tennessee Titan Nate Bandy.
Able to squat 700 pounds, McAmis has also “maxed out” at 335 pounds on the bench press. “I’ve done more than that on on non-max days,” he added.
Realizing as a walk-on he will start out on the “scout team,” McAmis sees that as an opportunity. “On the scout team I’ll be going against the No. 1 defense, so I can show what I can do against the best on the team.”
“I know I have to work harder than the others (scholarship players) to prove myself,” he continued. “I appreciate everything the coaches and players at Bradley have done for me and I want to go make them proud.”
McAmis also praised the efforts of his parents. “They have always supported me in what I’ve wanted to do. Mom (Jennifer Pope) would wake me up early to go run. That wasn’t always easy as I hated to run.”
Realizing he isn’t guaranteed anything, McAmis says the chance to play for the Vols is well worth the risk. “I feel very confident I can get a chance to play on Saturdays. Without scholarship money and having to take out student loans to be able to afford to go, one thing is for sure. I’m going to get my education while I’m there.”
Tennessee still has a few scholarships left for the upcoming season which could be offered to McAmis depending on his performance.