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Catching up with Huey Whittaker

The Spokane Shock's Huey Whittaker (17) lays a stiff arm on Bossier-Shreveport's Roland Cola while on his way to a 43-yard touchdown in the second quarter Saturday, April 17, 2010, in the Spokane Arena. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane Shock's Huey Whittaker (17) lays a stiff arm on Bossier-Shreveport's Roland Cola while on his way to a 43-yard touchdown in the second quarter Saturday, April 17, 2010, in the Spokane Arena. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane receiver Huey Whittaker traveled a somewhat bumpy career path until his breakout AFL season in 2008 with Utah. He's Spokane's leading receiver and he's the subject of a feature story below that will run in Friday's S-R.

Also, here's an update on Jacksonville, the Shock's opponent Saturday in the Arena, from the Florida Times-Union, and a look at Sharks quarterback Aaron Garcia, who began his collegiate career at Washington State.

Read on.

By Jim Meehan

jimm@spokesman.com; (208) 765-7131

When you’ve practiced with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars, and played in NFL Europe, the last place you expect to find yourself is on the inactive list with an Arena Football League team.

That’s where 6-foot-5 receiver Huey Whittaker resided for nearly two years of a pro career that was seemingly stuck on the tarmac. For the better part of two frustrating seasons with the AFL Tampa Bay Storm, Whittaker was on the field, but usually not when they were keeping score.

With a wife and two young children at home in Florida, the easy route might have been to chuck the cleats in the closet, but that’s just not Whittaker’s style.

“I don’t understand the quitting part,” he said. “I was never a quitter. I’ve always followed through with things. Even if I’m planting a tree in my mom’s backyard –  my mother knows and she’ll tell you to this day and my wife will tell you – I’m not coming inside to eat or go to the bathroom. I’m getting the job done and then I’ll move on to doing something else.

“That’s just how I am.”

Not that his patience wasn’t tested to the limit when he was watching from the sidelines with Tampa Bay.

“It was like, ‘What is the deal?’ ” the University of South Florida product said. “It’s kind of a numbers game, but it made me stronger, helped me to be resourceful and look at things for what they are and look at people for who they are, and understand that I can’t change them. The only thing I can do is control the things I do. From that point, I had to find someplace I could call home.”

On the field, that is. A couple of phone calls, a tryout and within a week Whittaker went from inactive in Tampa Bay to playing for Utah. In his breakout season in 2008, Whittaker had 1,541 yards receiving and 40 touchdowns, including 32 TD catches, and was named first-team All-AFL.

The AFL ceased operations in 2009 while Whittaker had a brief stay with the New York Jets. With a restructured AFL back in business for 2010, Whittaker had several options, including Spokane, Arizona and Utah. Again, he didn’t take the easy route or pursue a team close to home. For obvious reasons, Tampa Bay wasn’t a consideration.

“I wasn’t afraid to go elsewhere and play, especially when everything falls into place like it did here with the practice facility, weight room, the amenities of the city and the fan support,” Whittaker said. “There was Orlando, but that puts me an hour and a half driving every day or trying to stay there. It doesn’t really matter if I’m an hour and a half away or eight hours flying. I didn’t want to base it on where I was, but on what it (the situation) was and I felt like I was supposed to be out here.”

The 28-year-old Whittaker leads Spokane’s talented receiving crew in catches (68), yards (722) and touchdowns (18).

“He’s a big dude, maybe the biggest I’ve played with,” receiver Raul Vijil said. “The way he moves is so smooth, very fluid. Big guys usually have trouble getting in and out of breaks, but he does a good job with that.”

Whittaker is threat anywhere on the field, but particularly closer to the end zone.

“He’s one of the few receivers you’ll see catch every ball with his hands every time,” offensive coordinator Matt Sauk said. “When you use that big body and make the catch with your hands, you’re looking at another three feet of separation from the defensive back.”

It’s so rare when Whittaker drops a pass, Sauk finds himself saying, ‘Did I just see that?’

Unless it’s during practice.

“In practice, his hands are horrible,” Sauk said. “In games, his hands are great. It’s hilarious, very odd.”

Whittaker says he’s putting an end to practice drops by adjusting his mind set. His career mind set is already in good hands.

“I’m like wine, I get better with age, and I definitely feel I have a lot left in me,” said Whittaker, who will reunite with his family during Spokane’s bye week after Saturday’s showdown with No. 1 Jacksonville. “I’m not stopping.

“It’s one thing if I couldn’t do it, but I know I can and I’m proving to myself that I can. I have to keep going until I finally get where I need to be.”

 




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Jim Meehan
Jim Meehan joined The Spokesman-Review in 1990. Jim is currently a reporter for the Sports Desk and covers Gonzaga University basketball, Spokane Empire football, college volleyball and golf.

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