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‘An Unbelievable Outpouring’

Nick Blakely Memorial Service

Hundreds of Stetson students joined with the family of Nick Blakely on Thursday night to remember and mourn the 19-year-old football player whose death brought “an unbelievable outpouring” from around the country.

Nick Blakely

Speaking at a Service of Remembrance in Lee Chapel, Hatter head football Coach Roger Hughes said he has received condolences from coaches with college and professional teams around the country. Blakely’s locker in the Stetson Athletic Training Center is filled with flowers, cookies and letters of support, he said.

Blakely, a linebacker and sophomore accounting major, collapsed at practice on Monday night and later died at Florida Hospital DeLand.

Hughes recalled speaking to Blakely’s mother on “that fateful night, when I had to deliver the worst news a parent can ever hear,” he said, choking back tears. “The first thing out of Michelle’s mouth was, ‘Coach, he loved Stetson. He loved that team.’”

Stetson football coach Roger Hughes on stage

Stetson football Head Coach Roger Hughes called Nick Blakely “the ultimate competitor.”

A redshirt freshman last year, Blakely would have played in his first Hatter game this Saturday against Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. His mother asked the coach to dedicate the season opening game to her son.

“And so we will be playing for Nick this weekend,” Coach Hughes said.

Three of Blakely’s teammates also spoke at the service, telling stories that brought tears and laughter from the full chapel. They described a smiling young man, who loved to compete and could always cheer up those around him.

Hatter receiver Jeremiah Nails knew Blakely for six years. They played football at Archer High School in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and the two decided to attend the same college.

Crowded Lee Chapel with family members in one row

Stetson Athletics Director Jeff Altier, in the black suit, sits with Nick Blakely’s family members at the service.

“Last year, I lost my younger brother and Nick was there. He was my roommate,” Nails said amid tears. “He just walked into the room and he knew something was wrong. He asked me and he just embraced me.”

Nails also recalled that “last year we got in trouble. We got to practice at 6:30. You’re supposed to be there at 6:27.”

They tried to be “slick” and escape notice, but the coach walked over and questioned them. Afterward, Blakely whispered to Nails that he wasn’t going to serve his discipline.

“But 5:45 the next morning, Nick was up right next to me and running on that treadmill,” said Nails, prompting laughter. “This year is a dedication to Nick. … When we go to Scared heart, we have to beat them for Nick.”

Before the service, the football players and coaches walked together from the Athletic Training Center and to the chapel, each wearing Stetson green athletic shirts. They sat together in the front of the chapel, with Blakely’s father and other family members seated behind them.

The crowd filled the chapel to capacity and a second viewing area, with live-streamed video, was set up nearby in the Marshall & Vera Lea Rinker Welcome Center.

football players walk through palm court

The Hatter football team walks to Lee Chapel for Thursday’s Service of Remembrance.

Stetson’s three chaplains – Sensei Morris Sullivan, Rev. Christy Correll-Hughes and Rev. Willie Barnes, Jr. — spoke at the service, and the Stetson Student Choir sang “Amazing Grace.” Stetson student Deante Samples ’20 sang a moving solo of “Give Me Jesus.”

Members of the Stetson community are expected to turn out Friday about 7 a.m. to see off the football team as they head to Connecticut for Saturday’s game. Students, faculty and staff should line up along Minnesota Avenue in front of Smith and Gordis Halls by 7:15 a.m. Parking is not available in the immediate area.

The game will be streamed live on Saturday, Sept. 2, at 5:30 p.m. and the community is invited to join together at the Rinker Welcome Center, or the game can be seen on Sacred Heart’s video feed: http://necfrontrow.com/webcast.php/SHU-4636/ .

Born Nov. 4, 1997, in Dekalb, Georgia, Nicholas Adam Blakely was a three-year letter winner in high school as a running back and safety. He helped his team to a 33-7 record over three seasons before choosing Stetson over Georgia State University.

He is survived by his parents, Milton Blakely and Michelle Wilson; brothers, Ryan Brown and Jared Blakely; and sisters, Shayla and Paige Blakely. The family is planning a funeral service on Wednesday, Sept. 6, in Georgia.

-Cory Lancaster

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