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After Shredding His Knee, This Viking Discovered Singing. Now He’s Chasing Pro Bowls and Grammys.

For his pop career, second-generation WR Blake Proehl comes prepackaged with a platform and an origin story.

Blake Proehl
Provided

Blake Proehl has always known how scoring a touchdown makes people feel. He experienced it 10 times while playing at East Carolina University, eliciting high-fives and chest-bumps from the 51,000 fans at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Proehl, whose dad Ricky won two Super Bowls during his 17-year NFL career, has never been shy about the athletic gifts that make that possible, including his scorching 4.47-second 40-yard dash and soaring 36-inch vertical jump. 

Proehl’s other talent—singing—remained hidden until late 2021, months after the undrafted wide receiver signed with the Minnesota Vikings. A devastating knee injury that summer, one that took the young wideout through a “really, really, really dark place,” eventually led Proehl to discover the emotional power of his previously unrealized gift. 

“It brought some family members to tears, because it was just a shock,” he remembers. “Right then and there, I remember feeling how much power there is in music.” 

Proehl, 23, is now being pulled in two directions, lured by very different dreams: NFL stardom and Top 40 stardom. The first one, pro football, has seemed like his birthright since Pop Warner, a path he’s barreled down with rarified bloodlines and eye-popping measurables. The second, show business, suddenly appears perhaps more plausible, given the emergence of his angelic, dramatic voice and supercharged TikTok following. 

As his surgically reconstructed knee heals, he says he’s not ready to pick just one passion. He wants to be Cooper Kupp on the field, Joe Jonas in the offseason. 

“You can only play football for so long without your body collapsing,” Proehl says. “I’m in it for the long haul for music, and I’m trying to get everything I can out of the game of football.” 

NFL DNA

By the time Blake was born, the Proehl family was finished with crisscrossing the country. A third-round pick by the Arizona Cardinals in 1990, Ricky had bounced from the desert to Seattle to Chicago to St. Louis. The family decided to settle in Greensboro, North Carolina, during the most exhilarating stage of dad’s career. 

Ricky was a member of the “The Greatest Show on Turf,” the high-flying, record-smashing Rams offense that dazzled inside the Trans World Dome around the turn of the millennium. Four members—Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Orlando Pace—are now enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Ricky provided an essential role: the gritty slot receiver who’d run shallow crossers right into the facemasks of linebackers and safeties.

During the 2000 postseason, Ricky’s 30-yard touchdown reception from Warner in the waning minutes of the NFC Champion Game stamped the Rams’ ticket to the Super Bowl. Two weeks later, they became world champs in a classic 23-16 win over the Tennessee Titans. You might remember the game’s final play: Titans WR Kevin Dyson with his arm outstretched, ball one yard shy of the goal line as time expired.

Blake, then just over 12 months old, can’t recall whether he was in the Georgia Dome that day as confetti fell from the rafters. “I think I was at the game? I’m not really sure,” he says with a chuckle. (Ricky later confirmed to Racket that his infant son did not attend Super Bowl XXXIV: “He was in daycare or something.”) 

Described by ESPN’s Len Pasquarelli as “generally unsung but never unwanted,” Ricky would go on to win Super Bowl XLI as a member of the Indianapolis Colts. The halftime entertainer that day in Miami? None other than Prince, who put on an electrifying, rain-soaked performance that’s still considered one of the all-time best. 

Praise Music and Football, Football, Football

Growing up in North Carolina, Blake missed his pro-athlete dad but understood “football put food on our table.” 

“I got to see him live out a dream of mine,” he says. “For me to ask questions and lean on him while chasing my dream, I’m super blessed.”

Blake acknowledges that his family is “tone-deaf,” an accusation his dad confirmed with a hearty laugh. But music was all around, especially the Christian praise tunes from K-LOVE 94.1 that always poured outta mother Kelly’s SUV speakers. “I know alllll the worship music there is,” Blake says, noting that he’d later gravitate toward mainstream pop and rap—“whatever was hot on the radio.” Videos remain of baby Blake belting out songs to older siblings Austin and Alex. “My mom said I would not shut up,” Blake reports. 

Credit: Provided
The Proehl kids: Austin, Alex, and Blake on the left; Blake and Austin on the right.

Football was king at the Proehl household. Austin was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 2018, and he’s since ping-ponged around the league. By the time the elder Proehl boy was catching passes at the University of North Carolina, Ricky quit his nascent NFL coaching career to train his sons and root them on. “It killed me,” Ricky told People in 2017, to not watch Austin’s early games at Chapel Hill. 

Blake’s obsession with football meant there was no time for music. No lessons, no plays, just occasional singalongs to iTunes and the radio. 

“I didn’t think getting into anything else was cool enough, because I was a football player,” he says. “As I got older, people would be like, ‘Yo, tell me why you can kinda sing!’ And I’d be like, ‘Alright, let’s calm down. It’s funny, it’s kinda stupid.’”

Draft Lows, High Notes

Blake would matriculate two hours east to East Carolina University. The hard-luck Division-1 Pirates have appeared in just one bowl game, a loss, since joining the AAC ranks in 2014. Blake’s teams struggled, but the 6-foot-1, 190-pound speedster with an NFL pedigree shined, hauling in 130 catches for 1,576 yards through 29 collegiate games. 

Midway through his ECU career, Blake realized his NFL dreams were in reach. “To be honest, I’ve mentally always felt like I’m going to make it,” he says. He declared for the NFL Draft a year early, only to sit at home that April weekend as 36 receivers not named Blake Proehl heard their names called. He’d have to crack the league the hard way, as an undrafted free agent.   

“I couldn’t believe he didn’t get drafted, I’ll be honest with you,” Ricky says. “I was shocked. You look at legacy, his dad played for 17 years. This kid’s bigger than his dad, faster than his dad, doesn’t drop balls, good route runner…”

While the draft didn’t fall Blake’s way, he did learn more about himself while fine-tuning his body for NFL scouts in preparation for it. During pre-draft workouts, a friend heard Blake singing in the shower. He was blown away, and implored his buddy to go on American Idol. Instead, Blake took a lower-stakes route and recorded a simple cover of John Mayer’s 2006 bluesy soft-rock song “Slow Dancing In a Burning Room.” He shared the clip with his family’s group chat. “I was like… holy shit, that’s Blake?” Ricky remembers. They were floored; tears flowed; the secret was out. 

“It’s something I never really felt before,” Blake says of that moment. “It’s truly me, and a vulnerable side of me.”

The Injury: ‘I Felt Multiple Pops’

Music, yet again, would take a backseat to football. In early May, the Vikings dished out their largest 2021 undrafted free agent contract—$115,000, fully guaranteed—to Ricky Proehl’s promising kid. By most accounts, Blake dominated throughout training camp. Bleacher Report named him the Vikes’ most likely UDFA to land a roster spot, writing in early August: “Proehl is reportedly doing well in camp—notably torching veteran defensive back Xavier Woods in one highlight—and could end up contributing for this squad during the regular season.” Dad was impressed too, telling gushing ex-GM Rick Spielman, “Yeah, you got a draft pick for free.” 

Two weeks later, at a heated joint practice with the Denver Broncos, Blake collapsed in a heap at TCO Performance Center in Eagan. There had been no contact on the play, but there had been gruesome-sounding noises. 

“Yeah, tore all of it. Yup. I was at a very high speed, and I tried to cut at an acute angle while running really, really fast, which is against the laws of gravity,” remembers Blake, who had already torn his other ACL freshman year at ECU. “My whole knee collapsed inward. I felt multiple pops in my knee, there was a lot of crackling going on in there.”

The injury proved as severe as it sounded. Blake shredded everything attaching his right femur to his tibia and fibula—the ACL, MCL, and meniscus, a rupture known to doctors as “The Unhappy Triad.” His nearby patella tendon? Also wrecked. “Gonna be a heck of a comeback story! Keep the faith,” Pro Bowler Adam Thielen wrote when his teammate and WR mentee announced the blown knee 56 weeks ago.

The Comeback, The Come Up 

Blake admits he wasn’t prepared for the emotional turmoil that came in the wake of his injury. 

“My whole life was dedicated toward reaching the NFL,” he says. “You think: What if this is it for me? I just shut down for a few months, honestly. I didn’t know what my life was going to be like without football, it’s all I’ve ever known.”

In a twist befitting a Hallmark movie, at one point amid all that darkness Blake reached for his acoustic guitar. He’d purchased it in college and packed it last-second before moving to the Viking Lakes apartment complex in Eagan. Just like with the keyboard, he had quietly taught himself to play over the years. 

“Obviously I was super handicapped at the time,” he says. “But I thought: I don’t have anything else to do, people have always told me I can sing, so shoot, Iemme pick up this guitar.”

That moment “ignited” something in Blake. A devout believer, he was certain it was fate. The injured rookie started messing around on TikTok, posting covers of artists like Coldplay, Jason Isbell, and his all-time favorite, Justin Bieber. Slowly but surely, hundreds of users discovered the hobbled NFLer with the sweet and tender voice.

Then, perhaps in another twist of fate, Blake returned home to North Carolina to stay with his grandma while visiting his alma mater. Seated at a piano in her living room, he “really opened up, voice-wise” for the first time. Grandma’s reaction, as you can see below, was “priceless.” 

The post went crazy viral, rocketing Blake’s TikTok following to almost a half-million. Now the secret was really out. 

“People look at me like: What are you an idiot, Ricky? You didn’t know your son could sing?” dad says. “I say listen, I’ve taken this kid from basketball practice—football, baseball—with him in the car, he was never back there blowing his horn. Ever.”

Even before he popped on TikTok, Blake had blipped on the music-industry radar by blowing his horn via a cover of New York City pop artist Rachel Grae. 

“It was still at the point where it was exciting that anyone was covering her music on TikTok, which now happens a lot,” says Ethan Langston of Groundwork Management, who manages Grae and, now, Blake. “Blake covered it, and we didn’t really know who he was. I think he had 300 followers at that point. Some of the people covering are… terrible. So we were like, ‘This guy’s amazing!’” 

At first, the team at Groundwork wasn’t even aware that Blake came prepackaged with NFL credentials and an origin story akin to Kanye West’s “Through the Wire.” (Blake says that upcoming songs will touch on overcoming the loneliness and self-doubt that percolated after his knee caved in.) Langston’s biz partner, an old-school fantasy football buff, would later freak out upon hearing they had signed Ricky Proehl’s kid.

“I’ll be honest: That’s part of what keeps us going with Blake,” Langston says of Proehl’s massive platform. “Things move a little bit slower with him, because of how committed he is to football—that’s his dream, and we understand and respect that.”  

A Softer, More Accepting League

Blake’s teammates, coaches, and the NFL’s PR apparatus have shown love for his musical pursuits. For viewers of HBO’s Hard Knocks, witnessing that level of encouragement for anything other than intense devotion to the playbook is anomalous to typical NFL life, especially toward an undrafted player. Ricky, who knows first-hand how coaches view distractions from the game, says his son is 100% committed to football in the short-term, adding: “[Singing] is definitely a great fallback plan, just having that gift and passion.” 

“I was doing treatment and I stopped ’cause I heard someone hit a quick note behind me,” Vikings running back Alexander Mattison said in a story on the team site last year. “[Blake] was on the table and I said, ‘Hold on now, did you just hit that note?’ And he played it off like he couldn’t sing, then told me check his Instagram ’cause he just posted. I saw the video and confirmed that note I heard—and beyond.”

Teammates are quick to throw up supportive flame emojis on his TikTok clips, as are NFL superstars like Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Chargers wideout Keenan Allen. 

Adds Lindsey Young, the Vikings staff writer/editor: “Blake has such a contagious energy, and it’s easy to see why he’s finding success in the music field. He’s a creative, passionate person who—as cliché as this might sound—always has a smile on his face.”

Culturally, this is a much different NFL than the one Ricky played in for all those seasons. DMX and Korn blared from locker rooms back then, he says, and the last thing coaches and fellow players expected from one another was vulnerability, musically or otherwise. It was an era of bigger hits and even bigger machismo, the downsides to both of which are becoming more widely known. 

“It is weird at first, when I’m about to post this super vulnerable, slower song,” Blake says. “But I’ve learned a lot of teammates like that. Mental health is a huge thing the NFL is starting to lean in toward and help people with, because it’s a real problem for most people honestly. Honestly, that’s where I find my purest voice.”

Chasing Two Dreams

This summer, Blake got to know the community of TikTok pop singers of which he’s now a part. He caught Jesse McCartney at the Fillmore in May and Jamie Miller at the Varsity Theater last month. Following COVID restrictions and his decreased mobility, Blake is just now beginning to explore his newish hometown; he’s “a big burger guy” and has scarfed several at Red Cow. 

With the dual profile of an NFL player and emerging pop star, Blake knows temptations abound inside the DMs. 

“Honestly, [laughs]… So there’s two parts of direct messages: There’s people you’re friends with, and then there’s requests,” says Blake, who also describes himself as “a big faith guy.” “I don’t really dive too far into the requests. I mean, I have a girlfriend so I don’t really indulge in that stuff. I try to stay away from those temptations, that’s the best way to avoid ‘em.” 

(When we talked with MILF-crazed Minnesota rapper Yung Gravy, he outlined an alternative DM approach.)

Blake performed live for the first time ever in June, opening for Grae at New York City’s Rockwood Music Hall. His short set included “Falling Into You,” an original piano ballad that has notched almost 400,000 Spotify plays; an NFL film crew tagged along to document the journey. He’s writing songs “almost every day,” and has a full lineup of ‘em recorded and ready to drop in the coming months. His manager, Langston, was quite encouraged with what he saw on stage in NYC. 

“Realistically, I think the sky’s the limit,” he says. “He’s a down-the-middle pop artist, which is one of the hardest sectors to break into, but if you make it you’re a household name. He checks every box: He has a great story, he’s a good-looking dude, he writes great music, he has an amazing voice and a platform.”

Blake is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Once his knee has fully recovered, new Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah will have a tough choice to make. The preferred route for Blake: Being named to the active roster, where he’d join Thielen, superstar Justin Jefferson, starter K.J. Osborn, recently acquired Jalen Nailor, former fourth-rounder Kene Nwangwu, and rookie Ty Chandler.

Getting signed to the practice squad would keep Blake with the Vikes, though other teams could poach him for their 53-man rosters. Or, possibly, Blake could be outright cut, meaning he’d be in the football wilderness. If he sticks around, he says we can expect live local shows beginning this spring. If not, don’t expect to see any quit from Blake Proehl—on the field or on the mic

“I’m going to give it everything I have,” Blake says. “I’d love to have a solid career in the league, hang that up eventually, and move to music.”