Photo by Jeff Helmkamp
Civic Memorial running back John Whitworth takes a hand-off from quarterback Adam Hill during the Eagles’ 47-14 win over the Effingham Flaming Hearts in Week 3 to go 3-0 to start the season.
When John Whitworth of Civic Memorial High scoots for big yards or tallies a touchdown, fans of the Eagles acknowledge his achievement.
“Johnny Football, Johnny Football,” they cheer.
He heard it plenty last Friday night at Hauser Field when the Eagles walloped Effingham, 47-14, in a nonconference game. And it’s like music to his ears.
“I can hear it and it’s very nice,” Whitworth said modestly. “It shows they are watching the game.”
So it seems as if the 6-foot, 180-pound senior is making his own kind of music. Whitworth ran for four touchdowns, including one on a 66-yard punt return against Effingham, to keep CM unbeaten.
The 3-0 Eagles, enjoying their best start since 2005, open Mississippi Valley Conference play this Friday at Jersey High. The Panthers are 0-3 heading into their league debut.
“He’s a very good player and kid that you don’t want to over-coach,” CM coach Justin Winslow said. “He’s pretty even-keel and the kind of a guy that leads by example. He has been pretty consistent and I think he’s gotten better every week.”
Winslow added, “John is a physical, power back that hits the holes, runs the angles and has speed. We’re also doing a good job blocking for him.
“I think he’s the first true running back we have had here in a long time.”
Mostly, it has been passing defining the Eagles during Winslow’s five years as head coach. Whitworth, however, gives them another dimension with his ability to bust through opposing defenses and gallop for touchdowns.
“He’s a talented player and they have a nice team,” Effingham coach Brett Hefner said after the Eagles snuffed out the Flaming Hearts.
Whitworth takes it all in stride, even though he has accumulated nine touchdowns and 596 yards rushing thus far. He also has six receptions for 64 yards and is equally dangerous on kick returns, accounting for 339 there. Overall, that’s 999 total yards in three games.
“I’m going to go out and do my best,” Whitworth said of his workmanlike attitude. “It felt awfully good to score on that punt return.”
He pointed out, “I have a lot of confidence in this team, I trust our offensive line and they trust me. It’s nice to have that 900-pound wall (triplets Andrew, Brandon and Curtis Deckard), and Cody Reynolds and Jordan Stagner, blocking in front of me.
“We have a great offensive line. I have their backs and they have mine.”
CM got a good look at Whitworth during his junior season. He scored seven times and rushed for 312 yards during the Eagles’ 3-6 campaign. Yet this season he is developing into their featured running back and an all-purpose one.
“When he’s running like that, it opens up our passing game,” Winslow said of Whitworth’s big yardage gains. “We can do different things.”
Curiously, Whitworth didn’t play football during his sophomore season. He concentrated on baseball, a sport he excels in as a left-handed hitting and throwing outfielder.
Nevertheless, he missed his contact with football and sought to hitch up with it again.
“I came back to play it my junior year,” Whitworth said.
Now, he may possess the ability to play both sports — or choose between them — after his high school career.
“I want to go to college and play baseball or football,” Whitworth said. “It just depends on the college and what happens the rest of this year.”
The upcoming Mississippi Valley Conference slate and the Eagles’ fortunes the remainder of this season could influence his decision.
Following CM’s game at Jersey — its third road contest in four games — the Eagles welcome Mascoutah (Sept. 25) and Highland (Oct. 2). They are at Waterloo (Oct. 9) and Triad (Oct. 16) to close out their league schedule. CM then entertains nonconference foe Mount Zion (Oct. 23) in their regular-season finale.
“It’s a blast,” Whitworth said of the Eagles’ quick getaway. “It’s more about my teammates than me. I love everything about this team, and especially the winning.”
Defending MVC champion Highland, along with Triad, are the only other conference squads to start 3-0. CM is seeking its first playoff berth since 2010, when the Eagles finished 5-5. The 2005 team, which also advanced to the playoffs after a 3-0 start, finished 9-3.
“We want to make it to the playoffs,” Whitworth said.
If six wins represent a magic number, the Eagles are halfway home.