Photo: Elijah Blades; Credit: University of Florida athletic association
The timing couldn't have been better to pair the Florida Gators with cornerback Elijah Blades, after years of pursuit on both ends.
Blades, a graduate transfer from Texas A&M and California native, enrolled at Florida last week and joined the team in practice for the first time on Saturday. His move came less than one week after junior cornerback and projected starter Jaydon Hill suffered a season-ending ACL tear in fall camp.
This wasn't the first time Blades attempted to join the Gators, though. In fact, Blades was once committed to Florida under head coach Jim McElwain, before taking the junior college route on a road that, eventually, led him to Texas A&M for two years before finally joining the team he once pledged to.
"Growing up I was a big Florida fan," Blades told the Stadium and Gale Podcast. "Growing up, I used to watch [quarterback] Tim Tebow, after Tebow all the teams, so I can name really anybody. I was telling everybody 'Florida is DBU,' and I play DB.
"So, they offered me [in high school] and just, it fell into me as my dream school and I felt like it was the right fit for me. I was gonna come in with [former Gators cornerbacks] CJ [Henderson] and Marco [Wilson]. The game plan was to come in, we all were going to play early. So, it was the best fit for me, but, I took a different route. I took the long way, you know?"
Blades would spend two years at Arizona Western Community College and quickly emerged as one of the top junior college prospects in the country in that span, which led Florida to offer him a scholarship as he prepared to finally enter the FBS level of college football. However, Blades would opt for Texas A&M after a brief commitment to Oregon in 2018.
Two years later, Blades was in the transfer portal and looking for a new home - specifically, away from his home of Southern California - after missing the Aggies' 2020 season as he rehabbed from an injury.
"Where I come from, it's just a lot of negativity and stuff you don't want to be around," Blades said. "[Southern California] to L.A., that really isn't something that I need for my life because it's close to home and just all that stuff is right there ... I feel like that's the biggest part for me, just getting away, just growing up [and] more maturity, everything really."
Therefore, Florida came calling again, and Blades didn't turn down his final opportunity to link arms with his "dream school."
Blades would visit UF over the summer and made up his mind quickly, refusing to take visits elsewhere while wrapping up his degree at Texas A&M. Blades had his eyes set on the school he always wanted to go to - and that school had its eyes set on him.
"They needed somebody to come in and step in now, they needed an older guy," said Blades. "I feel like it's the right decision, I've been wanting to come here. [Defensive coordinator Todd] Grantham has been wanting me here, I know Grantham, I've known [head coach Dan] Mullen since Juco. Honestly, I wasn't really trying to go nowhere else."
With Hill now sidelined for the year, Florida can count its lucky stars that Blades remained interested in joining the Gators after all this time.
Florida spent its offseason retooling its secondary by adding starting-caliber talent in Blades and fellow cornerback Jadarrius Perkins in an attempt to rebound from a disappointing 2020 season defensively. Those moves should pay significant dividends as Hill was expected to field a major role opposite of Preseason All-American Kaiir Elam in the upcoming season.
"What they want me to do is come in, just have a chance to come in and compete and get in that starting role," Blades explained. "Coach Mullen wants somebody to come and compete, just give him a dog. On the other side we've got Kaiir, Jaydon [is] down right now, then we got a lot of young pups. It's time to step up. So the role, just come in and be that dog."
You can hear Blades' entire interview with Stadium and Gale below.
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