By Jay Neal
TYLER — Former Jacksonville High School standout, Joe Whitaker, has always had a dream of playing NCAA Division I football.
Whitaker, a 6-foot, 235-pound linebacker, is currently a sophomore on the Tyler Junior College football squad and is fastly emerging as not only a stellar defensive performer for the Apaches, but a legitimate Division I prospect.
The numbers — a team-high 13 tackles in TJC’s season opening victory over Independence (Kan.) Community College — while indicative of a fabulous effort by the 2007 JHS graduate, don’t reveal Whitaker’s complete commitment towards one day realizing his dream, however.
Guys like Whitaker — two-way players — are a rarity at the JUCO level, which is all right with Whitaker if it increases his chances at playing at the highest collegiate level. Whitaker plays linebacker as well as fullback, two very demanding positions, for TJC.
“I don’t mind playing (both ways) because I have prepared myself well for this,” Whitaker said in a telephone interview following the team’s practice on Wednesday afternoon. “I trained hard over the summer and dropped 15-20 pounds to be in the best physical shape that I could possibly be in.”
Whitaker started both at linebacker and at fullback in TJC’s first game this season, but said his workload would be scaled back slightly in the team’s second game which was scheduled to take place last night against arch-rival Kilgore College. He indicated that he would start at linebacker and play some at fullback, but would not start.
“I will do anything it takes to help my team win, because the more we win the more coaches will come out and look at us and the more teams that see us the better my chances of playing D-1 ball are,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker went on to say that the early recruiting feedback he has received indicates some schools are considering him as a linebacker prospect, while others are more stimulated at the idea of him playing fullback. Either way, is fine by Whitaker.
“Some schools are looking at me as a linebacker and some a fullback,” he said. “It makes me no difference where I play as long as it is with a D-I school.”
Another goal of Whitaker’s is to be able to graduate TJC in December of this year; he needs just over 20 hours to be able to do just that.
Whitaker likes the abilities of his Apache defensive unit, although acknowledging the unit is loaded with youth.
“Our entire secondary is made up of freshmen, but we have a transfer, Shaheed Davis, from Stephen F. Austin at cornerback,” Whitaker said. “Our linebacking corp is pretty decent; I really trust those guys a lot, and we have a lot of depth on our defensive line, so we should be pretty good on defense.”
It would be understandable for Whitaker to proclaim his recent 13-tackle game the highlight of his college career thus far. But the game he holds the greatest fondness for occurred last season, in TJC’s second meeting with Kilgore.
“In our second game against Kilgore last year I blocked for a running back that gained 265 yards in that game; that is my top game, but the Independence (13 tackles) game is right behind it,” Whitaker said.
Tireless worker, team player, over achiever, unselfish...all traits necessary for an athlete to be able to play at the highest collegiate level and all characteristics that define Whitaker.
Whitaker is the son of Paul and Michelle Whitaker of Jacksonville.
By Jay Neal
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