For Texas senior running back Fozzy Whittaker, life is no longer about "the question." It is about "the answer."
Oct. 16, 2011
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
For Fozzy Whittaker, life is no longer about "the question." It is about "the answer."
And answer is exactly what he did Saturday in the Longhorns' 38-26 loss to Oklahoma State. Twelve seconds after Oklahoma State had taken a 28-10 lead with a 100-yard kickoff return to start the second half, Whittaker answered with a 100-yard kickoff return of his own that cut the score back to eleven points at 28-17.
It was, for a guy whose career has been short-circuited several times because of injury, a UT record setting second 100-yard kickoff return in as many weeks.
Entering 2011, the season had been something of a question mark for Fozzy. The senior from Pearland had endured injuries for much of his time at Texas. He missed the season of 2007 because of a left knee injury, and then hurt his right knee and played in only seven games in 2008. He struggled with hamstring and calf problems in 2009, and added a shoulder injury to his myriad of maladies last season.
But the addition of new football strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie and a shift of responsibilities that came from the offensive coordinator tandem of Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite, brought a new look for Whittaker.
Touted young running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron captured most of the media and the public's attention during fall camp, but it was the steadiness and maturity of Whittaker that put him in a featured role for the Longhorns of 2011.
Mack Brown says he builds his football program on "communication, trust and respect," and no one has locked in on that trio of qualities better than Whittaker. His roles have varied. Prior to the Oklahoma game, he moved in as a return man on kickoffs, and has responded with the two field-length scoring runs. He's played the "I" back in a traditional running formation, and has mastered the role of taking a direct snap as if he were a single-wing tailback in the "wild" formation.
With his two kickoff returns for touchdowns against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, he joins teammate D. J. Monroe as one of only two players in recent UT history to score twice on kickoff returns in the same season. He also is only the fifth player in modern UT history to score on a run, a pass reception, and a kick return in the same season. The others included College Football Hall of Famer James Saxton (1960), Olympian Johnny "Lam" Jones (1978), Mike Adams (1992) and Victor Ike (2000). In fact, the Longhorns went 22 years without a kickoff return for a TD between Jones' record setting 100-yarder and Ike's return in the Holiday Bowl. Whittaker has now done it twice in back-to-back weeks.
Perhaps his greatest contribution this season, however, has been as a mentor to Brown and Bergeron.
After a frustrating career trying to get the Longhorns' running back picture in focus, this season he has chosen to crystalize the concept by stepping out of the spotlight. Meanwhile, the highly recruited Malcolm Brown has become the Longhorns' leading rusher - and Whittaker has filled whatever role that has been asked of him.
He stepped aside as the starting running back in the `Horns' third game of the season, and Malcolm Brown was surprised by his attitude. Most players want to start, and all want to play. Whittaker set about the business of helping Brown become a better player.
"He's like a big brother," Brown said. "He is one of the coolest guys I've ever met in my life."
The extra gear he has exhibited in the two kickoff returns he credits to Wylie, whose work with the team in the summer helped Whittaker push his weight to 202 pounds and increased his speed and quickness.
Fozzy is the perfect package, according to Mack Brown. As a student-athlete, he achieved his degree in corporate communications in May of 2010. He is currently enrolled in graduate school, seeking a master's in kinesiology. He hopes to play pro football, and one day would like to work in football operations for a college or professional team.
In the secret life of Fozzy Whittaker, he is a lover of animals (he raises rabbits) and is a huge aficionado of the comic book hero Captain America.
Until this season, folks would have been hard pressed to link Whittaker with a super hero, but as 2011 has progressed, he has become a popular and unquestioned leader on a young offense which has few seniors on the two deep.
Where at one point, as a graduate, his return for his fifth year might have seemed a question it is no longer an issue. As the Longhorns close the first half of their regular season and head into an open date weekend before returning to play on October 29 against Kansas in Austin, Whittaker is clearly the team's offensive MVP through the first six games.
In a career often filled with questions (particularly concerning a myriad of nagging injuries), Fozzy Whittaker carries his Captain America backpack to graduate studies classes at The University of Texas. He no longer has to wonder about being a hero - as far as this Texas team of 2011 is concerned, he is one.
And that, as they say, is the answer to the question.