There’s no doubt — John Whitworth’s senior season on the football field was special.
Whitworth’s work as the running back on the 7-3 Civic Memorial Eagles earned him the distinction of this year’s AdVantage News Football Player of the Year.
Whitworth galloped for 1,466 yards on the ground for the Eagles, the new single-season rushing record for the program. He broke the record owned by Joe Odom from 1998. It was the first time a CM runner eclipsed 1,000 yards in a season since Odom’s feat in ‘98. Odom went on to play at Purdue and later with the Chicago Bears as a linebacker.
Who knows what the future holds for Whitworth, but 2015 stands as a special year for the 6-foot, 175-pound senior tailback. Not only individually, but on the team front. This season marked the first playoff berth for the Eagles since 2010 and their first winning season since 2005. They went 5-5 in ‘10. This season also marked the first home playoff contest since ‘05.
“It’s been a great experience,” Whitworth said of 2015. “Ever since I’ve been there it’s been losing season after losing season. Not to take credit away from the kids on those teams, because we’ve always had great athletes and every single one of us, whether it’s the youngest kid on the team or the oldest, we all wanted to go to the playoffs. Even though we didn’t go far, it just shows that if you work hard and put in the dedication in the offseason, then you can do it.”
As for surpassing Odom’s rushing benchmark, that’s a nice notch in the belt, according to Whitworth. It’s a feat he shares with his offensive line.
“I said it jokingly in the offseason that I wanted to set a school record,” Whitworth said. “We all had our laughs about it because nobody thought it was possible. I have to credit the line. Working together, I think I had a great bond with the line. I knew them and they knew me. They knew I would wait for them to make a hole. They’re bigger kids so it might take a little bit, but I’d wait for them. It all starts with the line, because with no blocking it doesn’t matter how fast you are or how strong you are; you aren’t going to get through a defense without the line blocking.”
Whitworth reminisced how his football career began playing center. From there he moved to quarterback and led his team in rushing, prompting a move to running back. In middle school he moved to wide receiver before returning to the backfield in high school.
He loved his return to running the ball and this year capped it. He said it’s dedicated to hard work from his entire team, especially in the weight room.
“We worked hard in the offseason,” Whitworth said. “Jeff Pickering worked with us in the weight room and he’s a great coach, a great guy and he pushed us to bring out the best in every single one of us. I can honestly say he had an impact on my year. He’s a great guy all around and the team owes him more credit and the whole football program owes him more recognition.”
Overall Whitworth tallied 19 touchdowns, 16 of them on the ground, 1 through the air and 2 on special teams.
Special teams is something he takes pride in, too. He was an all-conference performer on offense and special teams.
“I really like special teams just for the simple fact I get to start in the open field,” he said. “I will lower my shoulder if I need to, but that’s the last thing I want to do, because unless you totally annihilate them you’re probably going to go down. If you can make someone miss you can get 5, 10 extra yards or maybe even break it.”
Now he’s turning his attention to college. He’s looking at programs now and is willing to do whatever it takes to get on the collegiate gridiron.
“I love the game so much a college could pick me up and say, ‘Hey, we want you to play defensive back.’ I’d do it. I’ll play anywhere,” Whitworth said. “Running back is my preference, returning is my preference, but if you want me in the slot, that’s your decision. I’ll play tight end, outside linebacker. I could go on the other side of the ball and be happy, as long as I’m on the field playing.”