For a football player who has just generated modest interest on the college recruiting trail, University City’s Keandre Bledsoe sure keeps acquitting himself like he could be a star on the next level. Now all he needs is a ‘star program’ to take him along for a ride- a scholarship ride, that is.
If there were any lingering doubts that Bledsoe, a 6-foot-3, 180-pound star for the University City Lions program, may not be a college prospect at least on the mid-major level ,if not the Division 1 level, his outstanding performance in a recent senior all-star game at Gateway, should have convinced those scouts. But then again the banner season he had in helping transform the previously-downtrodden Lions to a 7-6 district finalist, after posting just five victories the previous two seasons combined, should have validated his status.
“He was definitely the spark that ignited a U. City resurgence this season,” said rival Clayton coach Gene Gladstone of Bledsoe, whose Greyhounds outlasted U. City 21-14 in a game this season. “One thing that impressed our staff about KB was that he was as dangerous in the fourth quarter as he was in the first. He never seemed to run out of gas.”
Bledsoe certainly didn’t see to run out of the gas at the all-star game, pitting the’Red team’ against the ‘Blue team’ in a contest in which the rosters were selected in a draft manner, with no regards to conference or district boundaries. After playing exclusively at quarterback for the Lions this season, while passing for over 2,000 yards and rushing for nearly 700 yards in the process this season, Bledsoe may have saved his best transformation act for last. Yes, he helped transform U. City into a winner as a star quarterback. In the the all-star game,however, he made the seamless transition to wide receiver and overwhelmed the Blue team secondary with three touchdown receptions and five catches overall to lead a 34-0 rout by the Red team.
“I was surprised to see KB as a receiver,” added Gladstone. “He is a gifted athlete and it’s no surprise to see him finding success at other positions.”
For his accomplishments, Bledsoe walked away with the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
“Well this was a real tough decision,” quipped all-star game organizer Michael Gerdine at midfield, as a smattering of players and supporters snickered, as they realized there was no other obvious choice for the honor.
In a game in which no official numbers were compiled, it didn’t take a statistician to surmise that Bledsoe was head and shoulders above a bevy of noted stars on this afternoon: He snared balls in traffic. He made acrobatic catches. He out-positioned defenders for balls, including a 28-yard scoring strike from Ritenour quarterback Trevon Hollins-White with Normandy defensive back James Wright providing superb coverage on the play, but to no avail.
“He has a very bright future,” said Gateway coach Jason Dulick of Bledsoe. “He really stood out in the game and was somewhat unstoppable. He made some great catches.He looked like he had great body control. He has good hands. He looked very athletic in making some tough catches over his shoulder in the end zone against some of the top cornerbacks in the area.”
Although Bledsoe was the cream of the crop of the game, there were enough other notable players who attracted attention too: Clayton quarterback Anthony Cameron was impressive as a running and passing threat, including a 52-yard touchdown to Ritenour’s Ricky McCoy on a slick, stop-and-go route for a touchdown. Likewise Bledsoe’s backfield mate at U. City Jabriee Mason had a few impressive first-run down runs to extend drives. Additionally St. Mary’s defensive end Luis Medina had a couple of sacks and a few pressures for the Red team.
As far as the seemingly over-matched ‘Blue’ team was concerned, Career Academy’s Nicholas Walker and Hazelwood East’s Rajai Perkins came up with some big plays for the losing Blue squad. Walker was dazzling a few times as a runner and punt returner, while amassing well over 100 yards unofficially on just five touches. But Bledsoe was the enduring star, as evidenced by the fact that his aforementioned 28-yard scoring reception came with less than four minutes remain, which sealed his MVP honor.
“It was a great game (despite the score),” said Vashon defensive lineman Davion Stockard of the Blue team, who helped the Wolverines return to their winning ways this season after a couple of down years. “We were all stars out here but number 14 (Bledsoe) really did his thing. He creates so many mismatches in coverage. He was a great player. I’ll give him his props.”
Of course what made Bledsoe’s performance more noteworthy on this afternoon was the fact that he had spent the season at quarterback, where he passed for 2,0024 yards and 16 touchdowns, while garnering 674 yards rushing on the season. However, he had not caught a pass from scrimmage for U. City this past season and had caught only a modest eight passes for 133 yards as a junior, when he also missed time due to injury.
Who could have seen such a star transformation? Yet there he was in all-star game performing like, well, an all star receiver, which he now might project to be on the next level. Bledsoe said making the adjustment to receiver wasn’t difficult nor was working with new quarterbacks whom he had just practiced with a week leading up to the game.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said afterwards, as he clutch the MVP plaque. “It feels like we’ve been playing together for a while because we see each other in 7-on-7 tournaments in the summer. We get to know each other well as players.”
Now the question is: will more college recruiters get to ‘know’ Bledsoe as well as his production and potential merit? Thus far he has heard only from Northwest Missouri and Missouri Baptist from within the state and Kansas State and Georgia State outside the state Missouri Baptist University, a fledgling NAIA program in West County could definitely use Bledsoe’s talents immediately after a winless campaign.
At the same time, Missouri Baptist has a couple of local kids who have been productive: One of Dulick’s former stars at Gateway, Kalen Petty (6-4,220) has been one of the club’s leading receivers and just made second-team, all-conference with 23 receptions for 359 yards despite missing the last few games with injury. Former Career Academy star Demarco Billups finished as the starting quarterback for Mo. Baptist in 2014, while passing for 1,250 yards and rushing for another 479 yards. Bledsoe would appear to be a prime prospect to star at that level, but the consensus now is he could also matriculate to a higher level of competition.
Danny Heitert, one of the preeminent college football recruiting experts in the area the last 20 years for STC Grid Reports, noted that even as a quarterback prospect Bledsoe just needs more “work on his deep balls” and other than that, he possesses the intelligence, physical skills and intangibles to succeed there as well. Overall Heitert rates him favorably.
“He is a good game manager and runs the ‘read option’ series pretty well,” noted Heitert. “He is a hard-target runner who is not easy to get on the ground. He is very quick and elusive.”
Gerdine, acknowledged that there have been some concerns about Bledsoe’s weight, a theory that Heitert concurs with.
“He needs more strength and mass,” said Heitert “But (he) is a solid (mid-major) prospect who might be able to compete with the right MAC-type team.”
The MAC, which stands for the Mid-American Conference, is considered a tier below the power conferences, such as the SEC (Southeastern) or Big Ten,but eight straight years a MAC team has beaten a Big Ten team in recent years and seven MAC teams are playing in bowl games over the holidays. Akron, (Bowling Green, Miami of Ohio, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan are among the current MAC bowl contestants, of a conference that boats 55 current NFL players, including Pittsburgh Steeler stars quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of Miami of Ohio and linebacker James Harrison of Kent State.)
But wherever Bledsoe lands in college, there is no doubt by those close to him he can make the successful position switch.
“We were not amazed at what Keandre did in the game as a receiver, even though he played quarterback for us this season,” said U. City wide receiver- defensive back who also played for the Red team in the all star game. “We didn’t have a quarterback so Keandre volunteered to play quarterback.”
“We knew he was that good at wide receiver,” asserted U. City coach Jameson Allen. “But he came to us early in summer camp and said he wanted to play quarterback. Based on what we do offensively we knew he had the skill set to pull it off because he’s so smart and athletic.”
Bledsoe ‘pulled off’ a lot of heroics this past season for the Lions, as his club came out of the gate with surprising upsets over perennial state contenders Hazelwood East (23-14) and McCluer North (34-28). The Lions played one state contender after another. But Bledsoe proved his worthiness in defeat as well, as he rushed for 90 yards and passed for 327 yards and two touchdowns on offense, while amassing eight solo tackles on defense in the best quality ‘loss’ a club could have: a 43-37 defeat to a Chaminade team ,which went to claim state runner-up in Missouri Class 5, a higher level than U City’s Class 4. In final game for the Lions he rushed for 97 yards on just nine carries and passed for two touchdowns on offense, while coming with six tackles and a fumble recovery on defense in a playoff-elimination defeat to Westminster Christian Academy, which made it to the Class 4 state semifinals.
“Keandre loves football no matter what position you put him at,” emphasized Bledsoe’s mother, Carrie Blair. “He’s going to give you 110 percent even if he is just filling in for one play. When he played in the JFL (Junior Football League) he asked to move to receiver because the coach would not let him play quarterback and defense in the same game and he loves defense just as much as offense. Since he was 7, Keandre also had an outstanding JFL coach in Greg Wayne teaching him the right way (to play) and even instilling proper structure ( of faith and priorities) in his life. Coach Wayne is still at Keandre’s side making sure he does what he is supposed to on and off the field.”
One element of Bledsoe’s game which caught Gateway linebacker Fabian Harris, a Red team teammate, by surprise was his leaping ability, although to U. City basketball observers that shouldn’t be a revelation, either, given his hoops prowess: Bledsoe is averaging 7.7 rebounds (along with 10.2 points) thus far for the Lions basketball team.
“Even though there were tremendous athletes in the secondary (for the Blue team) Keandre was just too big,” noted Harris, a star linebacker for the Jaguars who won the Public High League title this past season. “It shocked me that Bledsoe had that kind of leaping ability, being that he played quarterback for U. City. Having a target like that gave our Red team quarterback security. If nothing else was open they could throw to him as a security net.”
Thanks in large part to Bledsoe, the Red team had no trouble ‘securing’ an easy win. But that being said, Gerdine several of the other stars didn’t go unnoticed either. Gerdine said that Mason, and McCoy of the Red team and Perkins and defensive end Matt McClellan of Francis Howell of the Blue team have received some overtures as well.
“Mason from U City and McCoy from Ritenour should see a boost in their recruiting after they the games they had,” relayed Gerdine. ” Rajai Perkins got an offer and committed to Murray Sate (in Kentucky) and McClellan picked up two offers after the game.”
Meanwhile Bledsoe is waiting to hear from more schools. Be that as it may, his mother says his love of the game and his appreciation of his teammates supersedes his personal accomplishments or accolades.
“What I like most about my son and the game is no matter what passes he makes or catches he make or touchdowns he makes, he will be the first to tell you his team made it happen and there is no him without them.”