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From three-sport athlete to college safety: West Valley’s Connor Whitney ready to focus on football, but isn’t slowing down

West Valley's Connor Whitney runs through drills during practice on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, at West Valley High School in Spokane Valley, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
West Valley's Connor Whitney runs through drills during practice on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, at West Valley High School in Spokane Valley, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Connor Whitney is looking forward to taking a few days off. Just a few.

“I think I will have about a week off right before I graduate,” the West Valley senior laughed.

Whitney has been a three-sport athlete for his entire Eagles career. Football, basketball, baseball.

“I really enjoy all three sports,” he said. “I’ve really tried to enjoy my last time doing them. It’s never going to be as serious as it is right now.”

Whitney belted a grand slam to spark No. 2 seed West Valley past regular season champion Pullman in the District 7 2A championship game Saturday.

Clearly, Whitney is determined to go out with a bang.

The son of West Valley football coach Craig Whitney, Connor was an integral player on both sides of the ball as the Eagles marched to the state Class 2A semifinals in football.

“We played that semifinal game on Saturday,” Whitney, the younger, recalled. “On Monday I was in the gym for basketball.”

Whitney and the Eagles had a strong season and were knocked out of the state playoffs one-game shy of reaching the state tournament field, losing a 60-55 decision to Liberty High of Issaquah.

“That was the same thing,” Whitney said. “We lost that game on a Saturday and on Monday I was out playing baseball.”

Along the way, Whitney puts in a serious amount of time in the weight room. Over the summer he was there every morning at 5 a.m. During the school year, he starts an hour later. It’s safe to say there isn’t a weight in the West Valley workout room that Whitney hasn’t lifted tens of thousands of times.

For his senior football season, Whitney dedicated himself to getting to 200 pounds of muscle on his 6-foot-3 frame. He wanted to see himself listed in the West Valley football program at 6-3/200.

“I asked my dad – ‘If I get to, like, 199 pounds, you’ll let me round up to 200, right dad?’ ” the son laughs. “He said ‘No. You have to earn that. Every pound of it.’ I finally made it the week before we started practice.”

Whitney earned a bonus. When the University of Idaho announced its 2018 recruiting class in December, Whitney was listed the same way: a 6-3, 200-pound safety.

Having his college future decided was a relief that allowed the senior to relax and enjoy his final two non-football seasons.

But that also meant there would be no time off between Whitney’s prep and college football careers.

“My graduation is June 10,” he explained. “On June 11, I will be in class in Moscow, getting started on my college career.”

Craig Whitney was a wide receiver at Montana when the Grizzlies reached the NCAA I-AA semifinals in 1989.

His son now joins Idaho as it makes its return to the Big Sky Conference, where the Vandals will annually take on his dad’s alma mater.

“Between Montana and Eastern Washington, I’m real familiar with the Big Sky Conference,” Connor said. “I’m excited to get down there and start learning all I have to learn.”

He takes with him a treasure trove of both experiences and lessons learned from playing three different sports.

“Football has always been my No. 1 sport, but I’ve learned a lot from all three and I think they’ve all helped me get better,” he said. “Playing basketball, you get in great shape because of all the running you have to do, but aside from that it has really helped me with my feet. The footwork you need to be successful at basketball helped me with my footwork for basketball, especially defensively.

“Baseball has really helped me with my hand-eye coordination. I play the outfield in baseball, and learning to judge a flyball really helps me get a good read on the football.”

There never was a serious thought about concentrating on one sport to prep himself for a college career, he said.

“My dad has always encouraged all his football players to do other sports,” he said. “He says it just makes sense, especially at a smaller school like West Valley. You want your best athletes to play as many sports as they can.”

Whitney said he’s ready to whittle his sports down to just one in Moscow, but he’s not planning to cut back on his athletic workload.

“I’m going to keep working hard,” he said. “I’m just not going to be playing basketball and baseball.”

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