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MIAMI — Al Blades Jr. always knew he’d be back with the Miami Hurricanes, but after his 2020 season was cut short his brief time away from the field has made him appreciate the game of football more.
Blades missed Miami’s last three games of the 2020 season after being diagnosed with myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle and a potential complication from COVID-19.
When the doctor gave him his diagnosis and he realized he would have to be out for three months, the fourth-year cornerback didn’t know what to think.
“I kind of just blacked out,” Blades recently said to the South Florida Sun Sentinel during a meet-and-greet event at Pilo’s Tacos in Wynwood for children with intellectual and physical disabilities. “Someone who plays football their whole life, you tell them you can’t play, you just don’t know.”
Unlike an injury, Blades said he didn’t have to go through any treatment or rehab for the myocarditis.
He simply had to rest, which in many ways for him, was the most challenging part in addition to having to watch the Hurricanes play without him.
“You’re telling someone who’s one of the most active people on the team to sit down,” Blades said, “and that was hard for me.”
Blades said that he found himself “disengaged” for a while after his diagnosis, but what helped him keep his emotional and mental wellbeing steady while being away from football was the community he had on Twitch, a streaming service focused on video game live streaming and broadcasts video game competitions.
After the name, image and likeness (NIL) legislation went into effect at the beginning of the month, Blades announced that he’s sponsored by Hyper X, which is a company that makes headsets and other gaming equipment.
In his Twitch bio, he says he wants to be a full-time streamer after he’s done playing football.
“They’re kind of like my outlet the same way I’m their outlet, so it’s like two-way relationship,” Blades said. “My community has kept me afloat ever since.”
“It’s just all about us being together and building a community where everyone can be themselves and smile.”
Blades said he plans to release a video on his YouTube page where he’ll further discuss the emotional journey he went through after being diagnosed with myocarditis last winter and sustaining a stress fracture earlier this year.
“It lets you know anything can be taken away at any moment,” Blades said. “Got to enjoy it while you got it.”
After going through spring camp and the summer focusing on his conditioning, Blades said he’s “great” and “strong”, mentioning that he weighs 194 pounds after being listed at 188 pounds last season.
Blades finished 2020 with 29 tackles, seven pass breakups and two interceptions through eight games.
But with those two interceptions coming in Miami’s second and third games of the season. He knows people are looking for him to record more takeaways.
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“People’s biggest complaint about me is that I don’t catch enough interception[s],” Blades said, “so we’re going to do that.”
And he hasn’t put a number on the number of interceptions he’s hoping to grab this year.
“Sky’s the limit,” Blades added. “We’re going to see what we can do.”
Blades added: “Every down counts. Every down, every play counts. I’m taking every game personal.”
Blades, along with Miami football players Lou Hedley, Clay James, D’Eriq King and Ryan Ragone took photos, played games, tossed footballs and signed autographs with Pilo’s employees with “special abilities” and kids from organizations that help children with disabilities such Best Buddies, Gigi’s Playhouse and Our Pride Academy at the meet-and-greet.
In a news release, Pilo’s said it was one of the first hospitality groups to partner with collegiate athletes during the NIL era.