Blake Dees’ parents, Jon and Donna, own a late-model Chevy Tahoe that’s going to get a workout over the next four years.
Dees is a bit of an oddity for a Texas Tech football player, being from Alabama — a fact that didn’t stop his parents, two older brothers and an uncle from making the 16-hour drive to West Texas last weekend.
“They’re going to try to make it every home game,” Dees said Tuesday. “My dad’s a state trooper down there, and he loves to drive. He likes the drive out here, and he especially wants to see me play. They wake up at 6 in the morning, drive all the way here and get here about 11 or 12 at night.”
The trip to see the first game was worth it. Tech not only beat Texas State 50-10, but Dees was in the starting lineup at strong-side linebacker for his first college game, making seven tackles and recovering a fumble he caused.
The 6-foot-1, 224-pound freshman made it look easy almost from the moment he first slipped on a Tech uniform in February and started climbing the depth chart in spring practice.
“He was up and down,” Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said of Dees’ first start. “The thing about Blake is he’s real smart, and sometimes he tries to do people’s jobs other than his and he overpursues. But that happens. He’s just got to learn to settle down and play within himself and not try to do too much. He’s going to be a good player.”
When former Tech defensive coordinator James Willis was hired by Tuberville, one of Willis’ first acts once he got situated in Lubbock was to send a scholarship offer Dees’ way. Dees quickly accepted. Even in the middle of Southeastern Conference country, he was being lightly recruited by SEC schools.
“We’d seen him in camps, and we just did our homework on him,” Tuberville said. “A lot of other people would’ve (offered him) — we jumped in there pretty quick and got him committed. ... You’ve got to have a feel for linebackers. They’ve got to really love the game, and he understood he was going to come out here and play pretty quick. He didn’t know this quick, but he’s off to a good start.”
Dees picked up where he left off last year, when he was named Class 5A first-team all-state by the Alabama Sports Writers Association. He had 103 tackles, four interceptions and three sacks for 13-2 state champion Spanish Fort.
Dees gives his dad a good portion of the credit for his making it to the Division I level.
“Me and my dad would always go to the field and do hops and jumps and just try to get me more explosive,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been working for. I went to a trainer all through high school, and that’s what I’ve been working for my whole life.”
Dees’ season opener this season and his season opener last season were not much alike. For one thing, he knew almost every player on the field last year. Though he spent the last three years of high school at Spanish Fort, Dees grew up and went to school in Fairhope, Ala., through the middle of his ninth-grade year. The two are 10 minutes apart on Mobile Bay along the Alabama gulf coast.
Spanish Fort opened with Fairhope last year.
“I was playing against a bunch of friends,” he said.
Saturday, the scene was all new, from the size of the crowd to the stakes to the people he was playing.
Dees said his most eye-opening experience was going up against a Texas State offensive line that averaged 291 pounds a man.
“They were holding me like crazy,” he said. “I didn’t like that. Every time I’d rip off a block, they’d still be holding on to my jersey. They never got called for it. But I didn’t really get hit too hard.”
But Dees will keep coming back. And so will his family, which includes two brothers who are students at South Alabama. His mom and dad will rack up the mileage, but Dees says it’s worth it.
“They love it,” he said. “They’re going to support me in anything I do. They loved that I’m coming out here and making a name for myself. It sure makes them proud to know that I’m actually doing something with my life.”