Crystal River's Will Bleakley not only excels at offense, defense and kicking, but also in the classroom.
By CAREY FREEMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001
CRYSTAL RIVER -- When Bob Bleakley thinks about his son, Will, and his athletic and academic accomplishments, two qualities stand out. Independence and determination.
It seems when Will Bleakley wants to do something, he does it. And when he does it, he almost always does it well.
"I had no idea he would be such a good athlete," Bob said. "But he's worked hard at it. I knew in the beginning he'd be smart, but I didn't know he'd work so hard at (athletics), too."
On the field, Bleakley is one of Crystal River's top contributors and a starter at defensive end, tight end and kicker.
In the classroom, he boasts a near-perfect 3.9 grade point average (4.2 weighted) and scored 1,240 on his last attempt at the SAT, something he plans to improve upon this fall.
"He's the smart guy with the big head," teammate and longtime friend Clayton Trenary said with a chuckle. "Actually, we just like to make fun of him like that. He's very smart -- one of the smartest kids I know. I wish I had his grades."
Bleakley's first foray into football came at age 12.
And sure enough, the independent streak was already showing when he asked his mother, Betty, to sign the form that would allow him to play for the Crystal River Sharks, a local Pop Warner team. "He came up to his mother and said, 'Sign this and take me over to practice on Monday,"' his father said.
"Will's just got that decision-making deal and he never regrets it either. He's got a great attitude and doesn't get down on himself. If he fails, he'll just try again."
The fact that Bleakley grew into an accomplished athlete should come as no surprise. His mother and father are avid golfers and his father is also a budding triathlete. His brother, Blake, 21, played varsity soccer at Crystal River.
Being astute has also helped -- both on the field and in the classroom.
"It comes easy for me," Bleakley said. "When I see stuff, I know how to do it the first time. That's basically why I'm good in school. I see it once and don't have to study because I can remember it.
"It's the same in practice. I see it one time and I'll remember from then on."
Since joining the varsity as a sophomore, Bleakley (6 feet 4, 215 pounds) has grown into his role at Crystal River. The past two seasons, he has added nearly three inches and more than 40 pounds to his frame while adding on-field savvy to his game.
In 2000, Bleakley earned Times All-Citrus/Hernando first-team honors after compiling 139 receiving yards and registering 75 tackles. He was also a first-team All-Citrus/Hernando baseball selection in the spring.
"Will has really come along," Pirates coach Jere DeFoor said. "He didn't get a lot of action as a JV player, then before his sophomore year, he did some good stuff and we realized we needed to get him on the field somewhere. He makes plays and seems to be in the right place at the right time a lot."
A groin injury suffered early last season kept Bleakley from contributing even more -- as a kicker. That's something the Pirates hope to change this season, especially after the spring jamboree. Bleakley nailed a 30-yard field goal and put three kickoffs into the end zone.
"If he stays healthy, it will be awesome," Trenary said. "Every ball he kicks goes in the end zone. His leg is unbelievable."
Most schools charge $3 to $5 for each game.
None planned for 2001.
Teams are divided by enrollment into six classes of roughly an equal number of schools, ranging from Class 6A (the largest) to Class A (the smallest).
Citrus, Crystal River, Dunnellon, Lecanto and North Marion are in Class 3A, District 3. Hernando is in 3A-7 with Gulf, Hudson, Pasco, Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills. Central and Springstead are in 4A-6 with Land O'Lakes, Mitchell, Ridgewood and River Ridge.
District champions and runners-up advance from the 12 districts in each classification. Eight at-large teams also will make the playoffs in each class, based on record and schedule strength. The playoffs begin Nov. 9. The state championship games are scheduled for Dec. 6-8 at Florida State in Tallahassee.
Every Friday night, the Times will post scores on its Web site between 11 p.m. and midnight. Check www.sptimes.com.