"We Walk!" #8: PK Eric Whitaker [#46]
hopefully-award-winning "We Walk!" series,
here is segment #8 of our prolific parade of
poignant articles profiling the twelve terrific new "walk-ons" for Stanford
football in 2009. Once again, it's a family affair down on the Farm, which has
to make it quite nice for the Southern California-based Whitaker clan!
Brotherly love courses through the veins of the 2009 Cardinal football team, but for freshman walk-on Eric Whitaker, the bloodline runs much deeper.
"My brother and I have always had a great relationship, one of the best I've seen among siblings," Whitaker said. "I love my brother and it is great having him here with me."
Eric and his older brother, Nate Whitaker [#39], are fellow placekickers on the Stanford football roster. Nate transferred from Notre Dame in late September of the 2008 campaign, and unquestionably that has made the transition from high school to college much easier for his younger brother.
"Having him here made it all better," said the younger Whitaker. "I knew I would have someone there to support me if I had any issues or troubles in college. Football is going really well right now. It is pretty fun, but awfully hard compared to high school."
Responsibility is an intangible challenge many freshmen face when realizing the closet-full of dirty laundry won't clean itself or a meal won't magically appear without a mother to cook it. Whitaker has experienced a firsthand lesson in becoming accountable on the football field.
"We have a lot more responsibility," he said. "We have to wake up at 6:30 every morning, get out here on time and go to meetings. We didn't have meetings in high school; we just practiced for two and a half hours and then took off."
"He's always helped me be the best kicker I can be, but this is actually the first time we've really competed for a position,"
Whitaker stated. "It's a little weird, but it's exciting as well. A little brotherly competition never hurt. I will have to work on a few things to be at his level, but it's going to be fun."
Competition for the starting placekicker position extends beyond the two siblings. Sophomore Travis Golia saw action last season as a kickoff specialist and is in the mix for the job.
Whitaker attests that while all three are all competing against one another, they all respect each other and drive each other to be the best.
"We are all a big family here, we all help each other out and make each other better," he said.
Even away from the football field, the three amigos share sleeping quarters and enjoy spending time with one another.
"We are rooming together right now," Whitaker said. "It's actually my brother, Travis and I, so we are like one kicking family, living together. We all get along really well. During the day it's pretty much all football, but we also go to treatment together and dinner together."
While the youngest of the kicking trifecta has the confidence and talent to compete for the starting position, Whitaker's goals for this season are to improve upon his kicking skills and push the players around him to become better.
"I am going to do my best to pressure the other two kickers," he said. "If it works out that I'm the best kicker, then so be it. I know that they are both stronger, older and have more experience right now so I'm looking up to them to lead me on the right path. I just want to compete with them and make them better."
Whitaker grew up in the
"If I didn't get into Stanford I was going to go to USD to play football for them," he said. "That was my second choice, and I was also getting looked at by Brown. Stanford was always my top choice since my freshman year in high school."
Whitaker pointed out what makes Stanford so special - as opposed to staying close to home or attending an Ivy League program.
"I had my mind set to come [to Stanford] even before I knew I wanted to play football, but it all just worked out," stated Whitaker. "I've always heard great things about this school; great academics, great tradition, great relationships among students and faculty. That's just the type of environment I wanted."
After being sidelined with a groin injury for a couple of weeks, Whitaker is back in action on the football field. Prior to the setback, Whitaker said he had lost a bit of confidence while dealing with a technical issue that involved his leg traveling inside and around the swing plane, which created a 'helicopter' spin on the ball, instead of a preferred 'up and out' motion.
"Before I got hurt I wasn't feeling it, but when I came back [Thursday] and I was kicking in the stadium, it felt really good," Whitaker said. "I think I was thinking about it too much, focusing on too much all at the same time. It's kind of a 'nerves' thing, I guess."
Sometimes taking time off to heal an injury, collect thoughts, and regain confidence are the best things an athlete can do to remedy a problem.
While he admits he is an inch shorter and 10 pounds lighter than his older brother, Whitaker has plenty of power packed into his 5-8, 175-pound frame.
"I am pretty comfortable hitting 50-yard field goals," Whitaker said of his range. "The longest I've ever hit in practice was a 60-yarder, but I've never tried anything farther than that. But I can't do that consistently right now, I have to work a lot more to get there. The farthest I've hit in a game was 46 yards."
Outside of football and studies, Whitaker has a very unique hobby. He has a passion for saltwater life and maintains a giant tank full of marine creatures at his home in
"They are predator ambush fish," he said. "They come from the family of Anglerfish, which are members of the order Lophiiformes, but they aren't in the deep sea, most of the time within 40-feet of water. They can also open their mouths 12 times the original size so they can eat fish at least their size and maybe even twice their size." [Remember that ghoulish anglerfish that almost fooled and ate Marlin and Dory in Finding Nemo?]
"Gorf" feeds on other saltwater fish and shrimp. One day Whitaker inadvertently gave him the delicacy of a lifetime.
"One time I bought a gourmet meal for him by accident," he said. "My grandpa came down to visit us and I bought a $15 beautiful, tropical fish. It was gone in the morning and 'Gorf' had actually eaten it during the night - so he had a nice gourmet meal!"
Whitaker has yet to declare a major this early into his freshman year, but has a couple areas of interest he would like to explore.
"I'm kind of interested in mechanical engineering, designing new things," Whitaker said. "I am in between that and graphic design, but I've also always wanted to be a teacher, so that's another option. I just want to make the best of my time at Stanford."
After hearing Whitaker's knowledge of the life aquatic, maybe marine biology will be his ultimate calling.
Programming note: Next up in our series will be affable OL Jacob Gowan, coming soon - trust us!
Do you have a "premium" subscription to The Bootleg? If not, then you are seriously missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest, baddest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)! At The Bootleg, "WE WRITE!"