In his fifth year as a safety for Whitworth, Atticus Templeton has played nearly three dozen games while donning the crimson and black.
But Saturday’s matchup with Chapman (California) will be a first for the team captain – an opportunity to compete in the playoffs.
“I’ve been really proud of the guys – they make one mistake, they’re not going to make it again. It’s been really cool to see that,” Templeton said. “… Our team is close, we trust each other. There is no pointing fingers or anything. We just know that we have each other’s backs.”
After several years of falling short to Linfield and a shortened season due to the coronavirus, the playoffs have eluded Whitworth since 2018. That was part of the reason Templeton returned for a fifth year.
“The job wasn’t finished,” he said. “… I figured if I’ve been playing football since I was in the second grade, I might as well give it one more year. I felt like I had more to give to the program, because it has given so much to me.”
Templeton’s choice to come back, which he calls one of the best decisions of his life, has certainly been justified. Whitworth has stormed through an undefeated season full of highlights, including Templeton’s first career touchdown thanks to a fumble recovery in a dominant October win against Willamette.
But last weekend’s comeback victory over Linfield in McMinnville, Oregon, in the battle of the unbeatens for the Northwest Conference championship, quickly became one of the highlights of his career. Templeton recorded six tackles in the win.
“That was a really, really cool moment,” he said. “Just getting to hug my parents right after that and hug all the guys. Me and my (defensive back) coach Duke DeGaetano, we’re really close and sharing that moment with him was really cool.”
DeGaetano, a former running back at Whitworth, joined the coaching staff during Templeton’s freshman year and witnessed his growth from a raw, but eager, player with untapped potential to a hard-nosed safety and leader for the team.
“From a football side, the very first thing that comes to mind is he’s a very cerebral player,” DeGaetano said. “He’s one of the smartest kids that I’ve ever coached, if not the smartest kid I’ve ever coached.”
A Tri-Cities native, Templeton spent most of his football life as an offensive player. He primarily played running back and quarterback while at Kennewick High School.
But while recruiting him, Whitworth coach Rod Sandberg asked Templeton to convert to a safety – a position he had never played.
Templeton responded, “I’d do whatever the team needs,” – which would go on to sum up his career as Pirate.
“He’s just a servant leader,” Sandberg said of Templeton. “Always behind the scenes, serving guys, cleaning up the locker room, talking to guys who are frustrated or injured. He really just pours his heart and soul into the team.”
A unique set of physical tools led Sandberg to believe he could be a great safety.
“He’s got this rare combination of speed, size and strength,” Sandberg said. “He’s a beast in the weight room. He’s just able to close the gap so quickly with his speed and then be physical at the point of attack. That’s a great combination for a (defensive back) to have.”
DeGaetano and Sandberg praised Templeton’s enthusiasm to learn and get better throughout his five seasons.
“It’s so cool to see a kid who wants to learn, to actually get it and grow and develop and not only become a great player, but become a captain and a leader on this team,” Sandberg said.
This weekend will be an opportunity for Whitworth (9-0) to beat Chapman (6-3) for the second time this year after a 24-17 Pirates comeback win in Orange, California, on Sept. 16. Templeton said he has been in touch with players from the 2018 Whitworth team that won its first-round playoff game in dominant fashion before falling in the second round.
The game could also be Templeton’s last time wearing a Pirates jersey, but he said the thought has not crossed his mind. He does not plan on losing.
“At the same time, I know that I’ve given 100% of my effort to football, especially this year,” he said. “I am satisfied with what I’ve given to the program. Losing would be tough, especially because it would mean I don’t get to play with the guys anymore or just play at all.
“I feel like I’ve done it the right way and when I need to hang up the cleats, then I can do it with a smile on my face, even though it will be sad.”