The crowd at South Effingham County High School thought it knew what it was showing up for Wednesday as Austin Blaske held his signing ceremony.
Little did everyone know, he had a huge surprise.
Since Blaske had been a longtime commitment to North Carolina State, the thought was the announcement was just a mere formality. Then the big offensive lineman from little ol' Guyton reached into a box underneath the table and pulled out a black cap.
“Go Dawgs!” Blaske pronounced, as he placed a Georgia “G” on his head. The audience reacted with joyous gasp at the stunning twist.
Truth is, the whole affair was a bit of surprise to Blaske, too. Twenty-four hours earlier, he had no idea he’d be signing with Georgia. He was Wolfpack all the way.
“Bought a Bulldogs’ hat Tuesday night at Lids,” he said, rehashing the story on Friday.
That was the same night he informed N.C. State he wouldn’t be signing with the Wolfpack. There weren’t really any hard feelings about that because anyone who knew Blaske’s story knew what a UGA offer meant to him.
The primary reason Blaske can squat 600 pounds today is due to his relationship with a man named Danny Hagan. Hagan had been Blaske’s personal trainer for the last four years. He helped transform Blaske from a tall and lanky adolescent into a 295-pound people mover.
That was the weight Blaske played at in football this past season at South Effingham High. He’s at 285 pounds at the moment because of his commitment to another sport – wrestling.
Two-eighty-five is the weight class at which Blaske wrestles. And he wrestles very well. He finished as state runner-up in the weight class last year. The plan is to win it in this, his senior year. He’s 47-17 in that sport.
Hagan helped Blaske manage the craziness that is wrestling weigh-ins, as well as getting him in tip-top shape for football.
Unfortunately, Blaske has had to do that without Hagan’s assistance this fall. Hagan and his wife Julie were killed in a car accident in early September. They died after hydroplaning off of Interstate 16 near Swainsboro – just a half hour from Guyton – on their way home from the LSU-Georgia Southern game in Baton Rouge.
The Hagans have three children attending Georgia Southern. But there was no bigger Georgia fan than Danny Hagan. It was his prayer that Blaske, his prized pupil, would end up there.
That’s why, right before pulling out the hat from the under the table, Blaske said: “This is for you, Danny Hagan.”
“Everyone went crazy,” he added. “They had no idea.”
Blaske credits a lot of factors for making his dream come true, including Sam Pittman leaving Georgia and Matt Luke coming in. Not that Pittman never recruited Blaske. He did. Really well, in fact. But he didn’t have a scholarship to offer.
Thanks to Pittman leaving to take the head coaching job at Arkansas, defections opened a spot for Blaske with the Bulldogs. Luke, who joined UGA after being fired as the head coach at Ole Miss, reviewed Blaske’s video and loved what he saw.
“I was high on Coach Pittman's list, but Coach Luke was super interested right away,” Blaske said. “He called me and said he really liked wrestlers because wrestlers tend to be really good athletes. They know how to use their bodies. He wants to get a little more athletic on the line and that’s another thing that sold me on him.”
That was on Monday. On Tuesday, coach Kirby Smart called Blaske’s father, Andrew, and made the official offer. There was no hesitation in accepting over the phone.
The Blaskes, like most everybody in their neck of the woods, are diehard Georgia fans. Blaske’s younger brother, Aaric, plans to attend UGA on an academic scholarship next year. So they will both be in Athens by next fall.
Blaske’s signing was the last Georgia announced on Wednesday. He became the 17th member and fourth offensive lineman of the 2020 recruiting class. He and Devin Willock of New Milford, N.J., were the last two in the fold.
“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” Blaske said. “My home-state school. It was a no-brainer.”
Blaske wanted so badly to call his old friend. Nobody would have been more overjoyed than him and his wife, who so often made the drive to Athens to watch the Dogs play.
“A huge Bulldogs fan,” said Blaske, choking back the emotion. “He got me to where I am today. … It’s still heavy on my heart. He was like a father to me. He got me so far in football and just in life. He taught me so much besides getting strong. He taught me how to be a better man, a better person.”
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