February 4, 2008

Kevin Whaley: Numbers, Honors and Humility

About a year ago, a poster on the messageboards, in a rather tongue-in-cheek moment, referred to VirginiaPreps.com as tyrodtaylor.com presumably because there was a lot of coverage of the Hampton quarterback who steps under center for the Virginia Tech Hokies now. Similarly, we could just as easily been tabbed percyharvin.com or ejmanuel.com in other years. While I understand the point, I watch Tyrod and Percy playing in college on Saturday afternoons now and honestly say to myself, "we probably should have covered them more" or "we didn't do enough to talk about how special that kid is".

I suspect that feeling will be hitting me over the course of the next three to four seasons watching Salem High School running back Kevin Whaley take the field for the Minnesota Golden Gophers to whom he recently verbally committed.

Make no mistake about it, Whaley put up astounding numbers throughout his career. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his four years at Salem and totaled 6,301 yards in that time. Perhaps more impressively, Whaley has a nose for the end zone having reached it 85 times in his high school career in helping the SunDevils improve from their 1-9 mark posted in his freshman season to back-to-back undefeated regular seasons in his junior and senior campaigns which both resulted in appearances in the D6 Eastern Region championship game. The team split their record there topping Oscar Smith in his junior year 33-7, but falling 17-9 this past season.

The numbers don't seem to really tell the story of Kevin Whaley though.

He was named to back-to-back All-State teams and was the VirginiaPreps Eastern Region Offensive Player of the Year in 2006. He was the Beach District's Offensive Player of the Year in consecutive season and has been honored in one form or another by virtually every media outlet in the Tidewater area. In short, Whaley could spend as much time in the offseason gathering awards as he does during the season collecting yards.

Still, there's more to Kevin Whaley.

He measures in at 5-foot-9, 166 pounds -- numbers that can sometimes scare away major DI programs -- but he carries a reputation of being one of the most fierce competitors in Southeast Virginia. He runs a solid 4.5 and is not considering blazingly fast, yet if you ask anyone who has seen him return a punt or kickoff return, you'll not hear a story about him being caught from behind.

Perhaps his story is best told by his high school coach Robert Jackson who described Whaley in a 2007 interview with Rivals.com's Mike Farrell in this fashion...

"He's a dynamic football player," he said. "When I was coaching at Norfolk State, I noticed him as a freshman and little did I know down the line I'd be able to coach him. He's a heads up football player that does it all on offense defense and special teams. He's a guy that doesn't want to come off the field.

"As a running back, he's always going forward. He keeps the sticks moving and is a player that wants the football and is always up to the challenge. I hate to tag kids, but he's the type of guy I could see playing on Sundays. He's got a whole lot of upside to him and still has a lot of room for more."

Or maybe his story can best be told from the opposing team's sidelines?

Landstown High School Head Coach Steve Canter calls Whaley "a very good football player with good vision. He's tough as nails. I think that Minnesota's football program is going to be tougher the day he walks on campus."

Canter continued, "He's played well in big games. He's a guy who is going to show up and obviously, you have to be prepared for him. I definitely think that he's got a chance to be a special teams return guy. I've seen him hurt a lot of teams in that regard. He's got great vision and when he hits the holes, he does a great job of getting through there."

One thing seems to be sure, you won't get much of Whaley's story from him as he played interviews about his recruiting, his team and his commitment close to the vest.

Note these quotes from his October interview with Mike Farrell...

  • "I haven't really quite focused on recruiting yet," he said. "I'm supposed to be talking about it soon with my coaches.
  • "I'm just working hard in school and on the field," he said. "The season has been going good. We've got some good coaches, we play hard and we play together.
  • "I'm not sure on my statistics for the year. I'm happy with my play. I can tell I'm much more explosive and getting stronger. I just need to get better at everything still."

A month later, in another talk with Farrell, Whaley again showed a laid back tone saying, "I'm looking for a good school, a good education and somewhere that has nice people."

Asked about their season-ending loss, Whaley remained humble and talked about his team first, as is his nature. "This team worked hard and stuck together. It was a tough game," he said. "I did well on the year. I finished around 1,600-yards rushing and 23-touchdowns. I improved a lot. I'm much stronger and faster and working harder. I just have to continue to improve on everything."

Having interviewed Kevin a number of times myself and seen him dozens more, I can safely say that those quotes sum up almost every chat with him -- he's humble, never fails to mention his teammates, never chases publicity nor beats his chest and always speaks conservatively.

Maybe his story is the sum of all these parts.

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