This has been a strange season so far for the Springfield College football team. Following an undefeated season where everything went right and no one seemed to get hurt, the Pride are now doing anything they can to manage a win after a storm of injuries.
After starting quarterback Chad Shade and backup quarterback David Wells went down with season ending injuries, a running back in Hunter Belzo took their place behind center. As weird as it might be, this isn’t the most unusual change the Pride have had to make.
The Pride were left without a punter to start the season and wide receiver Jakai Whittingham stepped right up to fill the void.
“When I found out we needed a punter, I asked Coach C (Cerasulo) if there was any chance I could do it,” said Whittingham. “I punted back in high school and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Jakai seemed to do it all in high school. Along with punting, he played both wide receiver and defensive back for four years and was an All-Conference selection. When he came to Springfield, Whittingham stuck to wide receiver. Now in his senior year, he can add punter to his resume.
In six games this season, Whittingham has punted 32 times for 1136 yards including a long of 66 yards at WPI.
“I was kicking with the wind and got a nice bounce but that one felt nice,” joked Whittingham.
After jumping into a new position, Whittingham isn’t phased by what he is asked to do.
“I don’t really feel the pressure because I’ve punted before. It also helps that I’m a receiver because most punters have that one role and that’s all they think about but I’m out there all the time on offense so I’m not overthinking each individual punt.”
Whittingham’s role as a punter has been key for this team but we cannot overlook what he is doing as a receiver either.
In a run heavy offense, it is commonly perceived that the wide receivers don’t play a prominent role in the offense. Although, Whittingham can attest that this isn’t true.
“Most of our run plays are perimeter plays and they rely on receivers to make blocks,” stated Whittingham. “If we miss the blocks then linebackers and corners get a free lane to the runner. We might not get the chances to make catches but we still have to do our jobs and make those blocks. I like making contact so I take pride in blocking and knowing that I help my team out make the plays behind me.”
Whittingham is on the field for a significant amount of the offensive snaps and while he is blocking most of the time, the Pride know that he is able to make a play if they do decide to pass the ball.
In his four years, Whittingham has only caught seven balls but with those receptions, he has racked up 132 and added 3 scores. It is very well known that the Pride do not throw the ball. So far in the 2018 campaign, they have attempted a mere 30 passed only to have completed seven of them for 147 yards. Having someone like Whittingham who is an incredible talent who averages 18.9 yards per catch is gives the Pride options if they ever need to move away from the run.
The Pride seem to have players like Whittingham all over the roster. There are so many players who know their role and even if they might not be making the big plays that show up in the box score, they are willing to do whatever it takes to help their team win.
Photo courtesy of Helen Lucas