It’s no secret that Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles lives at the Beaches, and without disclosing too much of his day-to-day life, he frequents a coffee shop near our office here in Jacksonville Beach.
After being alerted to the fact that he was next door, I walked over and looked around for him. Of course by the time I found him, he had just been delivered two delicious-looking sandwiches … so I tried not to be too intrusive by waiting for him to finish his meal.
Once he finished, I walked over and awkwardly told him who I was and asked if he’d like to speak with me next door at our office. Surprisingly, he agreed to head over once he was finished.
As I walked back to the office a few doors down, my mind raced about what I would ask such a prominent member of the Jaguars team … especially since I don’t really follow sports.
In an attempt to look professional (and not seem like I was totally about to wing this interview completely unprepared), I scribbled down a few questions before he walked in moments later.
So, we sat down at the conference room table and jumped into the few questions, but the conversation we had after is the best part of all this.
Zach: So you wanna start off by just telling me a little about what you’ve been up to this postseason?
Blake: Yeah. So I got surgery on my wrist right after the season ended out in L.A.
I had some torn ligaments — just really cleaning it up type of deal, nothing major. And I’ve just been here rehabbing at the stadium every day. So that’s kind of the plan now.
It might be kinda hard to tell, but do you know what’s next for you?
I have no idea. I have an agent, he handles it. I’m just kinda waiting and doing what they tell me. I’ve had an unbelievable time here in Jacksonville for the four years I’ve been here and would love to continue to play here and be a part of this team, stay in this city — it’s awesome, I love it. That’s obviously my goal.
What’s that like? Do you just try to take your mind off it and not think about it?
I’ve had practice at not paying attention to what everybody says, because there’s been a lot of stuff said. [The internet] is just ruthless, and if I paid attention to all of it, I’d never get anything done. I really enjoy playing football and I enjoy doing it with the guys we have on this team, so it was pretty easy to go work every day and just enjoy the moment. Obviously it makes it easier and more fun when we’re having more success than we’ve had in the past three years combined.
Do you wanna tell me a little about your thoughts on the season?
I remember having a conversation with [Brandon] Linder, our center, because we go to Vegas every year with our offensive line when the season’s over, and when we’ve been in Vegas while they’re playing divisional round games or championship games sitting there watching the games in Vegas like, “Man I wonder what it’s like playing in that,” or “How sweet would it be to play in that.” So to have the opportunity to do it this year and to go through all that was special. From where we came [in previous years] to where we went last year, I think the bar’s been raised and the expectations have been heightened.
How has the support from the city and everybody been? I know at the beginning of the season everyone was up in arms about the kneeling protests.
It’s been incredible. You know, everybody has their own perceptions and opinions and they’re entitled to their own opinion of the whole thing, and I don’t think you can judge anybody off what they do because it’s their opinion and their right exercise it. But it was weird. I remember walking out of the stadium during like a Wednesday or something and there’d be a line of people outside trying to return their season tickets. It was just a really weird feeling.
But then we hit that winning streak in the middle [of the season]. Really, from that Seattle game on, I’ve never played in a stadium like that. The fans and the support that they’ve showed … it was incredible. It’s obviously something we wanna make consistent.
My few questions were done, so it was at this point we went completely off the rails.
What do you think was like the main difference this season?
I think it was a combination of a lot of things. But I think it was inevitable that this would happen with the guys we had on our team. Obviously there were some key guys that got brought in through the draft and free agency, but playing the past couple years, you could see it coming. I had a bad year last year, but we have everything we need as the core of a team to be really good in the NFL. Also what [executive vice president of football operations Tom] Coughlin and [head coach] Doug [Marrone] did to completely redo the whole culture of the organization was huge.
Full disclosure … I’m not the biggest sports fan, but I followed the last season closely. It was cool, to me, to see the city really unite behind the team this year.
This year was totally different. It was a totally different energy and you could tell that when people came up to talk to you out in public they were genuinely happy …
… instead of being assholes?
Yeah haha. It was like, “Hey what’s up Blake, you suck.” … “Alright, sweet man.”
Do you deal with that s**t a lot?
You know what’s crazy is that it’s all online. The internet is the devil.
So you got any big trips or anything planned?
Dude I got nothin’. Vegas is usually my big trip with all the offensive linemen, but it was the weekend I got wrist surgery, so I had to miss doing that. Just living in California for two months is kinda like my vacation.
Anything else you wanna say? Have you gotten many opportunities to talk with press?
No, I don’t really talk to them at all.
I mean, I don’t really want to be like that [typical press], we just wanna help you share your thoughts.
I appreciate it. Obviously you guys have an incredible thing. It’s always very interesting to me to sit down and read your magazine.
Thanks, we definitely try to make it something different.
You know, I just wanna say that I know for a fact I’ve really enjoyed the four years I’ve had here. I know the football has been up and down, and that’s something that has to improve. Last year was a step in the right direction of getting where we needed to go. To be able to do what we did last year and see how much the city and everybody here enjoyed it — when we got beat by New England, we got home at midnight and there were a couple hundred people standing in the parking lot waiting. You see that and the passion they have and it just makes you want to do more and be more successful.
The happiness you can bring to people that have kinda been deprived of that for awhile, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of the time that I’ve been here in Jacksonville and hope that I can stay for a little bit longer and keep playing football — ‘cause I love playing football here.
… you got anything else?
Uhh, I don’t think so … unless you just wanna B.S. about anything else? Anything around here outside the team?
Outside the team hanging out around Jacksonville Beach?
Dude I don’t do anything anymore man. I caught so much s**t for going to the Beach bars, I haven’t been to the Beach bars in like two years.
No more Hoptinger?
What goes through you mind when you see stuff like that?
The problem was, there’s no class or lesson to teach you how — I mean, I was living in college and we went out and drank all the time. We also played at a mid-major school, so it’s not like we were in the spotlight.
Wait where did you go to school?
I feel like I should know that …
Haha no worries. So all of a sudden I get to the NFL and it was like, “Well I might as well just keep doing the same thing I was doing in college,” and it just took me a year or so to figure out that it wasn’t really acceptable in other people’s eyes. But it was also because we were losing right? I get that. I don’t know if it helps or hurts. But to understand and get a feel for [Jacksonville] — although it’s a huge town, it’s a small town type of feeling and everybody knows who you are. So dealing with that was weird. I think it was during the Pittsburgh game toward the end once we had won, there was like a “Beach Bar Bortles” chant going on, and I was like, “Jesus I haven’t been there in like two years!”
That must be frustrating AF.
Yeah. At first it used to make mad, but I was like, “I don’t wanna be known as the guy who goes out all the time and does stuff like that.” They’re questioning my character, what type of person I am and what my priorities are and what’s important to me, and it’s like look, “I love playing football and I also like to drink.”
So does most of Jacksonville.
Right, which is why I love this place, you know cause everybody here likes to hangout and go to the beach, they like drinkin’ beer … and that’s all I wanna do. So I’m working on changing that image … so I only drink at restaurants now.
We both laugh.
No Ginger’s Place?
I’ve never been to Ginger’s Place. But I wanna go.
It’s f***ing awesome.
Someone comes into the conference room to ask Blake what his shirt size is.
I got nothin’ to do all day so. I was just gonna go play Call of Duty.
Do you game a lot?
No. But there’s a bunch of guys on the team that have been playing Call of Duty, but they all play on PS4 and I have an Xbox One. So my plan was to get really good on Xbox and then I’m gonna buy a PS4 and be like, “Oh I’ve never played this before,” and then just start whoopin’ everybody’s ass. So I’m in the process of training to be good enough to do that.
We converse here for awhile about where our families are from, then how we ended up living in Jax Beach.
So do you go to the beach here ever or do people pester you too much? Do you ever use any disguises?
Nah haha. I’ll go to the beach and just put on a hat and some sunglasses. Most people don’t say anything. But more people are figuring out where I live and people will come by and knock on my door and wanna have conversations. I’m like, “I don’t mind talking to you, but this is kinda weird.”
That happens a lot?
Pretty frequently. You kinda get isolated during the season for sure because all you’re doing is working. You don’t have any contact with anybody outside of who you work with. So it’s nice to have a conversation.
Uhh, no. Not really. I had a guy bring me one Busch Light the other day though. He showed up at the door and he was like a 15-year-old kid probably. He said, “Hey just wanna say congratulations on a great season,” and he pulled a Busch Light out of his back pocket and goes, “Here ya go.”
Did you drink it?
It’s in the fridge. I’m saving it for a special occasion — take me back to college. Busch and Natty, PBR buckets haha.
Do you wanna tell me a little about your charity?
Yeah. Two years ago we started the Blake Bortles Foundation. I’ve always been really involved with helping mentally disabled kids. We had this thing in my hometown called Challenger League. The kids would come and play football and the guys on the varsity team would help them. Each guy kinda had a buddy and would help them. I started doing that my freshmen year and created a really good relationship with a kid named C.J. I stayed in touch with him and his family, so that was something I was always passionate about.
We kinda combined that with first responders because growing up, all the coaches I played for were like cops and firefighters. So they had a big part in helping me become the person I am today. They like to workout and do things, but I would go stop by a place [station] and they’d only have like six dumbells and nothing to really use, so I was like how can we help out in any way to make their lives easier.
Got nothing else? Gotta go back to work?
I don’t want to, so … what else can we talk about?
Favorite brewery in Jacksonville?
Mine? Damn … that’s a tough one, but it’s gotta be a tie between Aardwolf and Engine. But also Southern Swells is like right there. I love them all haha.
What’s your go-to liquor?
I’m not a big liquor fan. I’ve never had a beer I didn’t like. I don’t think I’ve ever had a liquor drink that tasted good. Like I’ll drink it, but …
Sometimes I just force myself to like it.
Yeah I haven’t done that. I did it with beer, but I gotta do something. It looks so cool to like sit down and drink Scotch with your dad — that looks awesome.
I think eventually you just kinda learn how to drink it in a way that you don’t hate it.
… or look like you’re not trying to taste it. I’ll drink it and like hold my breath for 30 seconds like, “Oh god this tastes terrible. Let’s try not to spit this up.”
Yeah one of my friends did that a while ago at Flask & Cannon and threw up directly on the bar. I was like, “I’m so sorry, he’s gotta go.”
That was probably the worst part about the first year I spent here. Going out to the bar and having everybody buy you drinks. Some guy is like, “Here’s a shot of tequila!” I’m like, “Dude come on it’s a Friday … in June.”
I went on my bachelor party recently and it was like that. Everyone wants to buy you shots for your wedding and I’m like, “Please stop.” I only threw up once though. I’ve mastered the casual vomit — like just walking down the street and you just do a quick vom in a bush or something and keep going.
Oh really? That’s pretty good. If I’m throwing up, everybody’s hearin’ it. Not good.