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|Whitley carrying on tradition|
It's in the blood."
That's how former Ferriday High Trojan Keith Whitley explains how his son, Zach, earned Class 5A All-State honors in Texas as a junior linebacker.
Keith played running back and linebacker at Ferriday High and running back at South Carolina State. His father, Lawrence Martin, was a standout noseguard at Sevier High School.
Zach is ready to make a name for himself.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Zach Whitley had 121 tackles, 68 solo, 11 tackles for losses, one interception, two sacks, 11 quarterback pressures, two forced fumbles and four pass break-up for Houston North Shore.
"He's doing his thing," Keith said. "But he has surprised me."
The Mustangs finished 13-2 this past season, losing to Lamar 28-7 in the Class 5A Division I playoffs.
Lamar lost to Allen in the Division I state championship game.
Katy won the Class 5A Division II state championship and finished second in the nation to John Curtis in most national rankings.
Keith is a math teacher at North Shore. He moved to Houston to be with family.
"I don't coach because that would take away from watching Zach," he said. "But I love refereeing. and even had my first soccer game this week."
Zach, an A/B student, played tailback and linebacker in junior high.
"When he got to high school he had to make a choice on whether to play running back or linebacker," Keith said. "I played running back in high school and college (South Carolina State) and knew the punishment you took at that position. He's 6-3 and I didn't want him to take a lot of shots. I would rather that he would be dishing out the punishment."
Whitley started as a freshman
Keith was a standout running back/linebacker at Ferriday.
He was a member of the Trojan team which fell 23-7 loss to John Curtis in the Class 2A state championship game in the Louisiana Superdome.
But it was a 21-16 win over Vidalia during the regular season that most area fans remember the most.
Whitley, who rushed for 963 yards in 1983, scored on a 22-yard run to put Ferriday up 8-7.
In the final period, Vidalia's Raleston Brown split the uprights on a 27-yard field goal, giving the VIkings a 16-14 lead with 2:51 remaining.
Ferriday began its dramatic drive on its own 17.
Whitley ran for 38 yards on first down, was stopped for no gain on the second play, and then broke loose on a 43-yard run to the Viking 2-yard line.
"It was a toss sweep right and then a toss sweep left," Whitley said. "I just didn't have enough speed to get to the end zone.And I was playing both ways, so I was a bit winded by that time."
Johnson ran it in from there and Ronnie Reese added the kick for a 21-16 Trojan lead with 1:45 remaining.
"I still talk about those days a lot with Eddie Ray (Jackson)," Keith said. "We just had the attitude that somebody had to make a play somewhere. That was a good group of players. We didn't believe anybody could beat us and we played that way. It was a very personal thing because we felt no one gave us the credit we deserved. That gave us extra motivation. I told Zach the same thing, his team never got the credit they deserved despite making it to the fourth round of the playoffs."
Whitley said playing in the Superdome was an awesome experience.
"That was something as a kid to be playing in the Dome," he said. "I also played in the Astrodome when I was in college. Zach played in Reliant Stadium, so I was able to relate to that. I'm more worn out watching him play than he is playing. Every snap I am watching him and cringing with every play, seeing how he will react and do. He doesn't show a lot of emotion, but I'm doing that for him."
But off the field, Keith said his son is a lot like him, a young man of few words.
"We're both laid back," Keith said. "He just likes to take care of business and I talk to him all the time about taking everything serious. He's a team captain and he grasped that well."
That humbleness has served Zach well concerning the number of inquiries Zach has received, including offers from Houston and Texas A&M and interest from such schools as LSU, Alabama and Texas.
"I've got seven or eight boxes of stuff I am trying to find a place to put," Keith said. "I feel that's my job as a father to keep that part away from him right now. But he keeps his mind straight. I tell him, 'You're not special, but you are different. He wants to hang out with his friends, but I tell him if you get in trouble, it's going to be blown way out of proportion. Fortunately, he likes staying around this vicinity and has his head on right. He's very low-key."
Keith, who received interest from Grambling and LSU and actually committed to Mississippi State before a change of coaches led him to picking South Carolina State, told Zac the whole process is a business.
" At this stage you do not play football just to be on the team," he said. "People are serious. We only had 30 players on our team at Ferriday, so if you were going out just to be on the team, you were not going to be around long. You have to have teammates you can trust to go out there and perform."
With more than 20 juniors returning for next year, Keith has high expectations that Zach can experience playing in a state championship game next season.
"Next year we're hoping to be state champs," he said. "We've got a lot of high expectations."
|Frank Morris Murder Series|