After 40-plus years of promoting athletes from every walk of life, the script flipped for Florida high school football guru Larry Blustein at The Miami Herald’s All-Broward Athletic Awards on Friday.
Bluestein, who went public with his ongoing battle with kidney disease for the first time earlier this year, was given a standing ovation after receiving the Leo Suarez/Walter Krietsch Courage Award at the Signature Grand in Davie.
“I knew Leo Suarez forever, so this is a big deal to me,” Blustein said. “He started in this business right after I did. We had such a great bond. I know what Leo did to put high school sports out there when it wasn’t real popular. This is one of the best honors I’ve ever had. It was a total surprise.”
There is no understating Blustein’s role as a pioneer in a prep football industry that has exploded with social media. Even before the Internet boom, Blustein was the Mel Kiper Jr. of high school football in South Florida. With his signature backpack in tow, Blustein became a fixture covering Florida’s biggest prep football stars playing in the biggest games, while emerging into the most sought-out talent evaluator in the tri-county area.
But earlier this year, Blustein, a prep football columnist for The Miami Herald, caught his legion of followers by surprise when he revealed an ongoing battle to slow the effects of Polycystic Kidney Disease.
Blustein said since being diagnosed with the kidney condition in 2004, he immediately restructured his diet to accommodate what has become a hectic 80-plus hours work week encompassing four jobs.
Blustein said he was wary at first of making his health struggles public but reversed course when he pondered the positive impact it could have on the athletes he covered, including South Plantation star running back Alex Collins, an Arkansas recruit who won the Class 8A-6A Male Athlete of the Year award.
“When an Alex Collins comes up to me and embraced me and said keep up the fight, that meant a lot to me,” Blustein said. “When the kids at 17 and 18 recognize what you’re going through in life, that’s all I need. I don’t need any accolades. I just need them to acknowledge that they know what I’m going through.”
At 15, still a sophomore at North Miami High School, Blustein’s impromptu audition at WKAT in Miami Beach — filling in for legendary radio personality Sonny Hirsch — went so well, Blustein was awarded a regular spot as a talk-show host.
That launched Blustein to a well-decorated and diverse career as sports columnist, current talk show host on WQAM 560 High School Gridiron Report, 24 years and running as official announcer for the FHSAA state wrestling finals, editor for the South Florida Sun Times and selection into the FHSAA Hall of Fame and National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“My legacy is that I’ve always been there for everybody,” Blustein said. “Athletes, high school coaches, parents, college coaches. That there are no kids that I had an opportunity to help get their name out there that I didn’t help push. I’m in the best area in the country for high school football. I just want to keep doing this. The good Lord willing, I will be able to do this for years and years to come.”