Overcoming trials to become a champion
Published 11:47 am Wednesday, November 22, 2023
Chambers Academy triumphed over Banks Academy in the state championship on Thursday to win the AISA 2A state championship. In the midst of that battle for the state championship, senior Blake Reaves was overcoming several battles of his own.
All season, Blake Reaves’ grandfather, Richard Ballard, had an ongoing battle with declining health. The night before the state championship, Ballard passed away at the age of 77.
In that difficult moment, Reaves was able to depend on his teammates and coaches.
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Kyle Hand became a close friend to Reaves as soon as he got to Chambers Academy. Hand lost his grandmother earlier in the season, and he supported Reaves emotionally after he lost his grandfather.
“He just took me in, showed me the ropes and was like, again, a brother to me,” Reaves said about Hand. “He was definitely behind me, supporting me and helping me stay focused.”
On the field, Reaves was an immediate impact player after transferring from Valley. Reaves came to Chambers Academy looking for a chance to play at a high level, and the school quickly became a family for him.
“There was a change in the people I was around,” Reaves said. “They kind of took me in when I came in during the Spring. They treated me like family.”
Reaves worried early on about learning a new offense in his senior season, and he did not know what his role would be on the team.
Reaves quickly took hold of the offense and became a dominant starting center for the Rebels.
“The hard part I thought was going to be learning the offense, but it was pretty similar to the scheme we had at Valley at least in terms of blocking for me,” Reaves said.
Reaves came to Chambers Academy with several relationships already established. Reaves and Ryan Smith, the Rebels dominant defensive lineman, had been lifelong friends. Kyle Hand, the starting safety, also became like a brother to Reaves.
“He’s basically my brother,” Reaves said about Smith. “I’ve known him since I was a kid.”
Reaves was not the only transfer to make an impact this season. Koreen Henry and TJ Daniel both transferred to Chambers Academy from Handley. Those three instantly had a connection due to their similar circumstances. Reaves also quickly built a close relationship with quarterback Kole Baker.
The coaching staff at Chambers Academy impressed Reaves from the very beginning as they helped him to improve on and off the field.
“I noticed a big change in how much I was appreciated,” Reaves said. “They noticed me a lot and always focused on me getting better. They always stood beside me and helped me to get better.”
Throughout the season, Reaves overcame many challenges. Being the new kid on the block is tough for anyone but losing a loved one in the process is that much tougher.
Reaves’ relationship with his grandfather was stronger than most could even imagine. Ballard was so much more than just a grandfather to Reaves.
“Growing up as a kid, me and him were always close,” Blake Reaves said. “He taught me basic things. I was on a computer at two years old because of him. The most important thing, he taught me how to swim. I’m working as a lifeguard now. He’s always been that second dad for me, more than just a granddad.”
Reaves’ relationship with his grandfather helped to foster his love for the game of football. Reaves often spent days at Ballard’s house watching the game, and his grandfather made sure to support Reaves as he became a dominant player.
“At Valley, when he was able to, he’d come to watch me pretty much every single game that he could,” Reaves said. “I’d go down to his house sometimes, and we’d watch NFL and college football on Saturdays. There’s always been that football connection. At Chambers, I think he only made a few games because of how his health got, but he was always watching on YouTube cheering me on.”
Going into the game, there was so much more on Reaves’ mind than football. All season, Reaves had been telling his grandfather that he was going to become a state champion.
Going into the championship game, Reaves was battling with keeping his focus on the task at hand. Instead of losing focus, Reaves instead became extra motivated and dedicated every snap to his grandfather.
“It was definitely a focus thing because that was fresh in my mind,” Reaves said.
“I told him, I know multiple times before he passed away during the playoffs, that we’re going to go get a ring, and I’m going to bring it back and show it to you. Of course, I couldn’t do that. We definitely won that thing for him, and I know there were some big plays that happened, and I told the guys let’s go do it for him because he’s watching over us.”
While Reaves’ grandfather battled with his declining health, Reaves made sure to be there every day for his family.
Reaves almost had two different modes during the season. At practice, Reaves focused on becoming better and making his grandfather proud. After practice, Reaves became the rock for his family.
“Me and my mom have a good connection,” Reaves said. “I was always sitting there telling her that it was OK, and I’m here if you need to talk. With my grandmother, the same thing, I’ve always tried to be there for her. Every time after practice, I kind of set my own stuff aside and came straight home and helped out with whatever I needed to.”
As time wound down on the Rebels’ 41-14 win over Banks Academy, several things became a reality for Reaves. Reaves finally became a state champion, but he also did everything he promised to his grandfather earlier in the year.
“It didn’t really hit me,” Reaves said. “I was trying to really celebrate with the team, but at the same time, it hit me that I had stood up to my word that I was going to win it for him. The whole team was definitely there for me during that process, and I couldn’t ask for a better family on the football field.”
Now that his senior season is over, Reaves is moving forward and looking to continue making his grandfather proud every day.
“Next goal is to graduate college because he’s always said I want to see you go into college and be successful,” Reaves said. “That’s definitely my next goal ahead of me just to make him proud. If I could have the chance to step on a college field and play, that’d definitely be a big step. That’s how I’m going to do it.”