WARNER ROBINS - Down in Demon country, Warner Robins defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker has been the anchor on the field for the past two years.
This time next year, the talented lineman will be making plans to set sail on his college career. That is why colleges have been making the trip over to check out the 6-foot-3, 310-pound inside presence.
On a rainy Wednesday, only one school braved the storms to see Whitaker perform in his spring game.
"Quite a few coaches have come to see me this spring, but only Georgia was here for our spring game," Whitaker told UGASports. "That made me feel good, I must be doing something right to have them come in this."
Last year, Whitaker had what he called a disappointing season, marred by injury and unwanted weight gain. He finished his junior year with 40 tackles, 15 for a loss. Now down almost 20 pounds already, Whitaker says he is well on his way to having his best year yet.
"I just need to keep it up, and continue to have a good offseason" admitted Whitaker.
With 15 scholarship offers to date, the four star tackle has plenty of good options to choose from. In the state weightlifting championships this spring, Whitaker had a 405-pound bench, and a 585-pound squat , and a 290-pound power clean, good for third overall in the state. "Whit" is also an impressive athlete for his size and position, sporting a 27-inch vertical.
The talented prospect said that right now Georgia, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Miami, South Carolina, Florida State, Florida and Minnesota stood out to the Warner Robins junior. He recently took in a visit to one of the schools, and he gave his thoughts on the team.
"I went up to a spring practice in Athens, and I liked what I saw from the defensive tackles," he said. "They are going to have a couple guys leaving after this year, and it looks pretty good."
Checking out his potential future position coach was very informative to the Rivals250 defensive tackle. It could have a big impact on his decision. This could be the person who develops Whitaker, or that keeps him from attaining his full abilities.
Whitaker gave his impressions of Coach Rodney Garner at work.
"Coach Garner is a good coach, his track record is proven. Getting to see how he coaches his position, I know he wants hard work and no slacking off. That is just exactly what I want," admitted Whitaker.
One player from the area is already making plans to learn from Coach Garner. Northside Warner Robins defensive tackle Abry Jones signed with Georgia in February, and will be moving in very soon. The two talented players know each other well, and they have spoken about each other's future.
"Me and Abry (Jones) had the same advice for each other, which is to keep working hard," he said. "He supports me wherever I go, but of course he would love to see me up in Athens."
Now that his junior year is over, Whitaker plans to put recruiting on the backburner for a while.
"I am going to concentrate on getting ready for next year; I am still analyzing each college as far as my decision is concerned," Whitaker said.
After a disappointing 2008 season that saw his Demons go 5-5, Whitaker feels his squad is on the right track to turning it all around.
"We came together this spring; we have really improved the character of the team. We are going to be tough and hardnosed come this fall," he said. "We are not where we want to be, but if we keep working like this, we are going to be tough to beat."
One of the reasons for optimism is a healthy and more athletic Whitaker on the inside. Pushing his teammates in practice and even playing some on offense, Whitaker knows this is his team to lead.
"We have a new defensive scheme; it is kind of centered around me," he said. "I know I need to bring my A game every time. That should make everyone else better, and vice versa."
While a state championship is the goal of every high school football player, this standout lineman knows that it can only happen to one team. If it is not Warner Robins, it will not be because of Whitaker.
"If I give it all I have on the football field that is the only thing other than a state championship that will satisfy me," he said. "I do not want to look back and regret holding anything back."
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