Blake Bortles returned to his high school stomping grounds in Oviedo on March 12 to help run the BodyTech Performance football camp. Video by Bernard Wilchusky
The average Saturday mornings for 8- to 13-year-olds are typically spent in front of the television watching Adventure Time or playing in the backyard with friends, but when the hometown-kid-turned-NFL-quarterback Blake Bortles came back to his hometown of Oviedo for a football camp, kids quickly set their sights on participating in the event.
At Oviedo High School, more than 100 kids arrived 30 minutes before the designated check-in time of 9 a.m. to meet the No. 3 NFL Draft pick. Kids brought their cleats, gloves and, of course, their Blake Bortles Jacksonville Jaguars jerseys.
Bortles, who led the UCF Knights to a historical season and Fiesta Bowl win in 2014, teamed up with BodyTech Performance to help instill skills on the field and confidence in the kids' lives.
“I think being able to go through it and actually go play high school football, go to UCF, go to the NFL — you know, I think through experiences kids can kind of see that, and I think that gives kids confidence and the chance to say 'I’m from the same area, I’m going to the same high school, I can do the same thing,'” Bortles said.
The young, exuberant campers were full of energy, working in stations to complete a series of drills ranging from routine strength and core warmups to various running activities. Bortles oversaw it all, offering advice and tossing the ball around as part of the exercises.
Nine-year-old Colin Myers of Chuluota was extremely excited to take part in the camp with Bortles. When asked about how his camp experience was, he quickly answered, “Good!”
Colin, like most campers, was infatuated with the allure of an NFL quarterback from his hometown. When asked about how his conversation went with Bortles, he gave an animated answer.
“Cool! I [got] to talk about who's he playing in the NFL next year, like the Packers or Carolina,” Colin responded.
BodyTech owner Joey DeBellis went to school with Bortles in Oviedo. He talked about how the idea of this camp started as a joke among friends when Bortles was in high school, but soon the idea became a reality.
“The heart behind it was me and Blake talked about doing this years ago when he was in high school, and it was kind of a joke then,” Debellis said. “Then he kind [of] came together, made it to the NFL, and this was the first year he felt comfortable enough after being with the [Jaguars] for a couple years. It was about the kids and bringing it back to the community. That’s why we do what we do.”
When Bortles first started playing quarterback for Oviedo High, he used DeBellis' gym to train. Now, Joey and his brother, Nick DeBellis, are helping Bortles with his BB5 foundation, a charity that aids children with physical and intellectual disabilities.
“It all started from a thing called Challenger Football League here, which is mentally and physically disabled kids playing flag football,” Bortles said. “It started with autism. It was kind of my passion and where my heart was and then it grew into mentally and physically disabled kids and also first responders as a part of it. So it's kind of the mission statement on what we’re trying to help out.”
Nick Debellis believes the impact Bortles has with the youth is immeasurable, and his loyalty to those who mentored him as a 16-year-old kid is what sets him apart.
“The impact Blake has, I don’t think can be measured,” Nick DeBellis said. “Someone like him, his status to come back and say, 'You know what, I’m doing this 'cause I want to,’ that proves to kids that yeah, you can do exactly what you want in life, but more importantly, if you do get there, don’t forget the people who helped you get there.”
When Bortles looks back on his foundation in five years, he wants it to be said that he was able to be there for people and aid others who were in need.
“I think to be able to look back and say, we made a difference, we helped out, we impacted lives in a positive way, we’ve done everything to our ability to help people that can't help themselves,” Bortles said.
As the camp wrapped up after a speech from Bortles and the other team leaders, campers left with prizes and smiling faces, with a few of them congregated around Bortles, awaiting an autograph from the hometown hero. As far as camps go for the future, Joey DeBellis believes this is just the beginning.
“We’re thinking about expanding again next year and get more athletes, get more young kids involved and make them better athletes and build these athletes the right way just like we did Blake," Joey DeBellis said.
Christopher Davis is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter @ChristopherDTV or email him at ChristopherD@CentralFloridaFuture.com