Chris Bleich’s four-year journey through the major college football recruiting process finally came to an end Wednesday morning when he signed with the University of Florida during the early signing period.
The 6-foot-6, 320-pound Wyoming Valley West offensive lineman was one of 13 recruits to commit to Florida on Wednesday and only one of two linemen. The other was Florida native Noah Banks, who played this past season at Iowa Weston Community College. The early-commitment class was ranked 14th nationally by 247sports.com.
Bleich won’t be in the area much longer. He has already graduated from high school, using cyber school classes to reach his needed requirements, and will enroll at Florida in early January. It’s the same path taken by two other former Wyoming Valley Conference stars. Defensive lineman Shakir Soto left GAR and enrolled early at Pitt. Lake-Lehman lineman Connor McGovern also went that route and got an early jump on classes at Penn State.
“I used to work out with Connor McGovern,” Bleich said. “His leaving early made me realize I can get a head start on college.”
Bleich was nearly a teammate of McGovern. He verbally committed to Penn State as a sophomore, but later changed that decision. That started the recruitment battle again for Pennsylvania’s 15th best recruit, according to 247.sports.com.
“I was way too young and that was a foolish mistake on my part,” Bleich said of committing to Penn State before hearing pitches from nearly 20 other schools.
Bleich thought he found the right place in UCLA and made a verbal commitment to the Bruins. But once head coach Jim Mora Jr. and his staff were fired in November, he decommitted.
“When I was still committed to UCLA, no one really backed off from me because a lot of coaches told me (Mora could be fired),” Bleich said. “I was locked into UCLA. I loved everything about it — the coaches and L.A. itself. But with the new coaching change, I didn’t think it was in my best interest to go somewhere where it’s not the best scheme for me.”
Enter Mullen, who recruited Bleich while he was head coach at Mississippi State. Mullen and offensive line coach John Hevesey paid Bleich a visit on a Monday and he verbally committed a few days later.
“I first met with them at Mississippi State,” Bleich said. “And coach Hevesey, he’s an honest teacher. He’s not just going to teach you the playbook and say, ‘Block.’ He goes in depth with everything. It felt so comfortable around them and when they gave me to the opportunity to come with them to Florida I just kind of knew in my gut it was the right thing for me to follow them.”
Bleich was named to the Class 5A All-State team for a second consecutive year. He is a three-time Times Leader All-WVC selection and was named the Times Leader Player of the Year for this past season. He played guard and tackle at Valley West as well as defensive tackle.