COLUMBIA — Now that he has retired from the NFL, Dwayne Blakley is free to play the game he loves:
868 receiving yards
11.25 yards per catch
Team captain in senior season
Atlanta Falcons, Tennessee Titans (2002-2008):
189 receiving yards
Blakley, who scored 12 touchdowns as a tight end for Missouri from 1998-2001, never saw himself as a football player. He played both football and basketball throughout high school in St. Joseph, making all-state teams in both sports.
Although playing basketball in college would have been a thrill, attending MU was more important to Blakley.
And they recruited "Dwayne Blakley the football player" — plain and simple.
"It's kind of crazy, because anybody that really knew me knew that I was a basketball guy at heart. Football was something that I learned to do," he said. "I knew that I wanted to go to Mizzou coming out of high school. The only way to get there was with football."
He found a home at Missouri, being named a captain during his senior season in 2001. Next came the NFL, where he played sporadically from 2002 to 2008, scoring his only touchdown as a member of the Atlanta Falcons in 2005.
By the 2008 season, however, Blakley had suffered one lingering injury after another, including a torn pectoral muscle and a concussion. In the back of his head, he knew there was something else waiting for him beyond football.
And he didn't want to sacrifice that.
"My main reason for cutting off the football when I did was that I still thought I could go after this basketball thing. I'm playing in the American Basketball Association, so it's not like it's a major deal," he said. "But to me, it is a big deal."
Since retiring from the NFL, Blakley moved back to his hometown of St. Joseph. His day starts at 5:30 a.m., when he begins work as a personal trainer. He does private workouts with both adults and kids throughout the day.
And at night, he plays basketball.
Blakley has been a member of the ABA's Missouri Rhythm since 2009. The ABA is a minor professional league, somewhere where players can improve in hopes of catching on professionally overseas or in the NBA's developmental league.
The 6-foot-5 former tight end isn't seeking to take his game to the next level. At age 33, the NBA isn’t calling Blakley's name. But after playing in front of thousands of fans and national television audiences for so long, this new routine is satisfying in its own way.
"A lot of people ask me why I do it," he said. "They say, 'You're not making much money, and that's a lot of time to invest, and you're 33 years old.' I'm like, 'Hey, why not?' This is something that I've always wanted to do."
Years removed from the sport, Blakley admits that football didn't fit his personality. He's more laid back than most players in the sport, lacking the meanness that many players rely on.
Rather than scowl, he smiles.
"Personally, I always ask him how he could ever play football, because he's such a nice guy," Missouri Rhythm head coach Bryant Tucker said. "If he ever gets knocked down, he kind of just gets up and smiles and runs down the court."
Looking forward, Blakley doesn't know how much longer his body will let him play at a high level. He doesn't seem too worried about it, though.
"With a lot of guys playing football, after they retire a year or two later they have all those 'what ifs.' Once I sit down and am done with all this athletic stuff, I don't want there to be a question of 'what if,'" Blakley said.
"I'm going to put everything out there while I still can, and we'll worry about everything else later."
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.