TAMPA — Former USF assistant football coach Greg Gregory remembers how he would break down game film of 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," said Gregory, who was Bleakley's tight end 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."
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, and mustered a single tackle on special teams in 2004. He continued as a special-teams regular in 2005 and was put on scholarship by coach Jim Leavitt.
Gregory remembers him most for his senior season in 2006, when he started 12 games, catching nine passes for 100 yards.
Bleakley's reputation was established at Crystal River High, where he shined on both sides of the ball. He also helped the Pirates' baseball team to the state final four at Legends Field in Tampa in 2002.
"He was just about everything you would want," said Earl Bramlett, his football coach at Crystal River. "He excelled as a student. He was a real good player and he was a great kid. ... You never worried about him being eligible. You never worried about him being at practice. You never worried about his performance."
Former USF teammate Mike Lube 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 photo 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," Lube said.
Crystal River's Scott Miller, 25, has known Bleakley since sixth grade. They were USF roommates and fished together. Miller was out on the water Saturday off the shore of Citrus County but came in when the weather turned bad.
"That's why this baffles me,'' Miller said. "Will has been on the water all his life."
Times staff writer Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report.