Bleakley 'always set the mark' while at USF
TAMPA -- Former USF offensive coordinator Greg Gregory remembers how he would break down game film of former USF tight end Will Bleakley, but how unnecessary it seemed to assess a grade to the former walk-on's effort.
"He did everything you ever asked of him and more. He found a way to get his job done," said Gregory, who was Bleakley's tight ends coach from 2005-06. "I don't remember ever having to worry about his effort. In practice, in games, he was going to give everything he had."
USF coaches and players prayed Monday for the safe return of Bleakley, who is one of four boaters missing for two days after a fishing trip out of Clearwater Pass on Saturday. Former USF teammate Nick Schuyler was found clinging to the capsized boat Monday and transported to a Tampa hospital, but Bleakley and former Bucs players Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith remained missing.
Bleakley's career at USF was a lesson in persistence. The walk-on from Crystal River did not make it onto the football field in his first two seasons at USF, and mustered a single tackle on special teams in 2004. He continued as a special-teams regular, catching one pass in 2005, and was put on scholarship by Jim Leavitt.
Gregory remembers him most for his senior year in 2006, when he started 12 games, catching nine passes for 100 yards. The biggest came as the Bulls worked to run out the clock in a huge upset of No. 17 West Virginia. Leading 24-19 with 1:49 to play, Bleakley caught a 9-yard pass to put USF within a yard of a key first down. On the next play, the Bulls got that yard, clinching a landmark upset.
"He was as smart as any football player we had on the field that year," Gregory said. "He would study on his own, and he knew everybody's assignments as well as he did his own. ... He was very underappreciated, an unknown guy to many. But he played far above everyone's expectations, except his own and mine."
Former teammate Jared Carnes came to USF as a walk-on tight end, just as Bleakley did, and remembered how coaches pointed to him as a role model for working hard and finding a way onto the football field.
"He was the kind of player you wanted to mold yourself after," said Carnes, who later earned a scholarship as an offensive tackle. "He always set the mark for other guys coming in, and I remember that when he (went on scholarship), it gave me a glimmer of hope that if I worked hard, I could get a scholarship myself."
Another former teammate, Mike Lube, now a graduate assistant with the Bulls, remembers how proud Bleakley was when USF earned its first bowl win his senior year. Bleakley and receiver S.J. Green hoisted the winners' trophy high in the air -- a picture of that moment remains in the Hall of Fame area of USF's athletic facility.
"He was one of those friends that would do anything for you, a great guy all around," Lube said.