Last year native Canadian offensive lineman Danny Watkins was the talk of the draft. The Baylor product had dreams of becoming a full-time firefighter sidetracked by a blossoming football career. Phillip Blake has a lot in common with Watkins. Not only is he also a native Canadian, but he's a former teammate of Watkins' on Baylor's offensive line where he manned the center spot. He also has a good chance of being among the top 100 selections in this spring's NFL draft.
For the native Torontonian the journey to the NFL has been a long one. Following one year of high school football in Canada, Blake attended community college in Quebec for two years where he also played football, Blake was determined to play college ball in the U-S despite being heavily recruited by Canadian universities.
"I wanted to play in the NFL," said Blake. "So I knew going to college in the United States gave me my best chance."
The only problem was the NCAA would not accept his marks from his post secondary school in Canada forcing him to enroll at Tyler junior college in Texas for a year and a half to qualify. Blake played for a year at Tyler at left tackle before he was recruited by Baylor head coach Art Briles.
Once at Baylor the coaches lined him up at right tackle as a bookend to Watkins, who was the team's left tackle. Despite having a fellow Canadian on the offensive line with him adjusting to life in Texas was a bit of culture shock.
The first surprise was the institution the game of football was in the Lone Star state.
"When I went down there, and saw how football was in Texas, and I was just blown away," said Blake. "How much money is put into stadiums. Our games (in Toronto) were played during the fourth period (of classes). People would get out of class and walk around and check out the game, or not. You come here and it's different."
The Texas drawl also took some getting used to.
"When I first got here the accent threw me off because sometimes it'd be like, 'Huh? What did you say?' But about two months in I was kind of starting to sound like them. I'd call back home and they'd be like, "Oh, you don't even sound Canadian anymore. You're not from Canada.' And I was like, 'Oh my gosh.'"
Some of his teammates ribbed him for his use of certain Canadian language staples as well.
"Yeah. I used to say, 'Eh?' and 'Abaout' and stuff like that," said Blake. "But I'm Canadian, and I'm proud of it."
One thing that was certain, there was no joking about his play on the field, which not only impressed his teammates but the rest of the conference.
Blake earned Big 12 honorable mention honors in his first season. The Bears' coaching staff then promptly moved him to center for the 2011 season. Fortunately his high football I.Q. helped him make a relatively smooth transition.
"The coach said I am not the tallest player to play tackle," said the 6'2 ½" Blake. "So he said I have good feet and I'd be a better fit as an interior lineman, so playing center was the best option for me. I had to pick up everything real fast, but I didn't have any problems with that."
First team All-Big 12 honors were confirmation of that. With an 86 percent coach's grade, the highest on the team, on his resume all while helping Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III orchestrate the second-most prolific offense in the country (587 yds/gm) has Blake being discussed as a possible third or fourth-round pick.
Much like fellow Canadian Watkins (now with Philadelphia) his extra schooling in Canada will have him at 26 years of age before his first NFL season begins, otherwise he might go higher.
He played in the Senior Bowl where he spent a good portion of the practice week at guard where NFL talent evaluators undoubtedly wanted to gauge his versatility.
For Blake it's been a winding path that he's taken, but it's clearly pointed toward the NFL. Not lost on him however, are those that helped him along the way, through three schools in two different countries.
"The thing I'll miss most is the coaches," he said. "They feel like father figures to me, and I love each and every one of them for taking me from where I'm from and bringing me to where I am at today. Obviously I never imagined playing in the NFL, but I've been blessed by people who helped me and supported me during my journey."