Providence High senior wide receiver Blake Proehl said he doesn’t remember life without football.
His father, Ricky, was a receiver in the NFL for 17 seasons, including three with the Carolina Panthers. Ricky’s now in his sixth season as Carolina’s receivers coach. Blake’s brother, Austin, is a junior wide receiver at North Carolina. While at Providence, Austin was All-Observer and played in the N.C.-S.C. Shrine Bowl.
Watching his brother and his father closely, Blake said he knew early on he wanted to play football.
“My dad and my brother helped me get better,” Proehl said. “My brother is a great route runner and there’s nobody like him. So everyday, I’m out in the yard working, trying to get better like him.”
Blake Proehl, 17, is one of at least eight Mecklenburg County high school football players whose fathers played in the NFL.
It’s a trend that began in Mecklenburg County not long after the Panthers’ first season in 1995. Former Panthers linebacker Carlton Bailey was once a coach at South Mecklenburg High, and that was news.
Now, local youth football teams are chock-full of former pros who are coaching, like Hammer Down football’s Deems May (North Carolina, Seahawks, Chargers) and Clinton Portis (Washington, Broncos) with the Ballantyne Gators.
Before he became an assistant coach with the Arizona Cardinals, Brentson Bucker (Clemson, Steelers, Bengals, 49ers, Panthers) coached youth football in the area, as did former Panthers safety Mike Minter, now Campbell University’s football coach.
In high school last season, former All-Pro receiver Randy Moss’ son Thaddeus, a freshman at N.C. State, won a state championship at Mallard Creek. Former North Carolina star and Oakland Raiders tight end Ethan Horton had two sons play at Mallard Creek.
Former Carolina Panthers defensive back Eugene Robinson’s son, Brandon, played at Charlotte Christian, where his father coached. Former Panthers defensive lineman Sean Gilbert’s son Zack, a freshman at Pittsburgh, played at South Mecklenburg. Sean Gilbert is an assistant coach at West Charlotte High.
At Providence this season, Blake Proehl has caught 14 passes for 216 yards and five touchdowns. He also has a 91-yard kick return for a touchdown and averages 27 yards per kick return.
He has committed to play college football at East Carolina.
“They showed me the most love,” said Proehl, who also considered Appalachian State. “Coach Mo (ECU coach Scottie Montgomery) is awesome and that’s a football town (Greenville, N.C.). That’s a great place for me.”
At 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds, Proehl has been timed as fast as 4.49 seconds in the 40-yard dash. That was at a college combine in Boone last summer. A key player for Providence (0-3), he is considered a top-50 recruit in North Carolina.
“He’s awesome and he’s dependable,” teammate Drake Deluliis, a 6-6, 220-pound tight end who committed to Virginia Tech, said of Proehl. “He’s kind of put aside his dad’s history and his brother’s history and he’s building his own history.”
Said Providence co-captain and defensive back Caleb Bellamy: “He’s one of the best receivers I’ve seen all year. He’s quick off the ball, a great route runner, and he’s got great hands.”
In practice Wednesday afternoon, Proehl displayed that speed and those hands, breezing past defenders and snatching balls that appeared too wide or too high for him to catch. Providence coach Brad Bowles marvels at the work ethic that allows Proehl to make those kind of plays.
“I’m not sure he’s taken one day off since December,” Bowles said. “There’s a passion there that he’s got. He understands the ins and outs of the game and not just the on-field stuff. He understands what it takes to have a successful career, and he’s headed in the right direction.”
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Sons of former NFL players on local teams
At least eight high school players in Mecklenburg County have fathers who played in the NFL. And then there’s Hough quarterback Jackson Gibbs, the grandson of former Washington coach Joe Gibbs. Charlotte Catholic defensive back James Hurney is the son of former Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney.
Trey Bly, Soph., Myers Park (Dre Bly, Rams): Starter as a 5-7, 140-pound defensive back who averages 2.3 tackles for 3-0 Mustangs
Tyus Fields, Soph., Hough (Mark Fields, Panthers): 5-10, 190-pound defensive back has Clemson scholarship offer, interest from LSU, N.C. State, Tennessee, South Carolina.
Jeremiah Gray, Soph., Ardrey Kell (Derwin Gray, Panthers): 6-1, 185-pound sophomore defensive back has BYU offer, interest from Auburn, Yale, N.C. State, UNC, Virginia, Wake Forest
Jordan King, Soph., Myers Park (Shawn King, Panthers): 6-2, 360-pounds, anchors the Mustangs’ defensive line.
Tito Moss, Fr., South Mecklenburg (Randy Moss, Vikings): Freshman is the son of former NFL All-Pro and brother of Thaddeus, a freshman tight end/fullback at N.C. State.
Muhsin Muhammad III, Fr., Providence Day (Muhsin Muhammad, Panthers): 6-0, 170-pound two-sport athlete. He'll also play basketball at Providence Day.
Tim Newman Jr., Fr., Charlotte Country Day (Tim Newman, Jets): 5-9, 165-pounder is one of the few freshmen to have started at running back for the Buccaneers. He's run 29 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns in three games.
Blake Proehl, Sr., Providence (Ricky Proehl, Panthers)