Blake Proehl has already been to a Super Bowl, so making the transition from high school to major college football should be a breeze for one of the first players to join East Carolina’s recruiting Class of 2017.
The 6-foot-1, 170-pound wide receiver from Providence High School in Charlotte gave his verbal commitment to the Pirates last June 22 not long after attending summer football camp in Greenville. Proehl has remained true to his pledge in the months since and recently entertained ECU offensive coordinator Tony Peterson during an in-home visit.
Also sitting in on the visit was Proehl’s father, former Wake Forest and NFL wide receiver Ricky Proehl, who until last week was receivers coach for the Carolina Panthers. Ricky Proehl decided to leave that position in order to watch both his sons — Austin at UNC and Blake at ECU — play college football.
Ricky Proehl played 17 seasons in the NFL, including the final one with the 2006 Indianapolis Colts. He was part of the team that defeated the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
And guess who attended the Super Bowl that year to watch dad play?
“I was pretty young, about seven I think, and I went to the game,’’ Blake Proehl said. “I remember it like it was yesterday. It was pouring down rain. Devin Hester [of Chicago] returned the opening kickoff (92 yards) for a touchdown on the first play. I’ll never forget that.’’
Attending Super Bowl games was just one of the perks for being the son of a football player. But Ricky Proehl wasn’t just some player.
He re-wrote the receiving record book at Wake Forest, where he starred from 1986-89. Proehl still owns the school career record for receiving yards (2,949) and touchdowns (25), plus the single-season mark for receiving yards (1,053 in 1989). He led the Deacons in receiving three straight years and earned All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors as a senior.
Taken in the third round of the NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals, Proehl became a picture of consistency the next 17 years, accumulating 669 career receptions for 8,878 yards and 54 touchdowns for six different teams. He twice played for Super Bowl champions, first with the St. Louis Rams in in 1999 and then with the Colts in his final season.
Growing up in such a prominent football family was a blessing, according to Blake Proehl.
“It was awesome,” Blake Proehl said. “Everything is football. At first, you might think that would be pressure. But once you get to know my dad you know he’s not the type to pressure you. He supports you no matter what. He had tremendous success [in football] and he has so much confidence of me and my brother.”
That confidence resulted in both Proehl brothers playing the same position as their father, and playing it well.
Austin Proehl would become a two-time All-Mecklenburg County pick at Providence, and capped his prep career by making 89 catches for 1,190 yards and eight touchdowns. He earned a scholarship to North Carolina, where next fall he’ll be the top returning receiver for the Tar Heels.
Blake joined his brother in the Providence High starting lineup midway through his sophomore season when he made six catches for 72 yards. He improved those statistics to 22 receptions for 336 yards and two touchdowns as a junior, while also piling up 336 yards on kickoff returns and 95 on punt returns.
The performance was good enough to earn Proehl scholarship offers from Georgia State, Charlotte and Florida International following his junior year. But when East Carolina extended a scholarship offer while Proehl was attending the Pirates summer camp last June, he didn’t take long to accept.
“While I was at camp I was able to see the facilities and the campus,” Proehl said. “I just fell in love with it. The coaching staff is awesome. I think they get it more than other coaches do. They’ve worked at the highest levels and are starting to build a really good program.”
With his college decision out of the way, Proehl enjoyed a stellar senior season at Providence. He made a career-best 52 catches for 1,016 yards and 12 touchdowns to earn first-team All-SoMeck 8 4-A Conference honors.
Proehl is now starting to prepare to join a quartet of incoming receivers who’ll be joining the ECU program next fall. The others include Leroy Henley from Deerfield Beach, FL, Mydreon Vines from Greenville’s Rose High and another player with a football-playing father in Jayden Borders from Shelby. Borders father, Chesley, was a wide receiver at North Carolina from 1999-2002.
“I’m really excited to get started,” Proehl said. “I’ve had my day in high school and I’m really ready to get to East Carolina. I’m training hard and trying to gain some weight.”
Proehl says the Pirates are getting a receiver who plays very much like his father.
“I definitely feel like I’m the same type of receiver as my dad,” he said. “I run strong routes. I work at my craft. But I think the best thing that separated him from other guys was his IQ for the game. A lot of people and kids have all this athletic ability, but don’t know the game as well as my dad did. He was always running routes and working on his craft. That separates a lot of football players today. I strive to be like him and follow that same path.”