In 2005, Greg Morgan had a tough decision to make.
His Madisonville Mustangs were six games into the season and he'd lost his No. 1 cornerback for the year. The only viable option to replace him was the team's starting tailback, but that would mean handing the running game over to a high school freshman named Chris Whaley.
Oh make no mistake, the kid was big, the kid was fast, the kid was strong, but Morgan was hesitant to throw a 14-year-old into the fire. Whaley was a prodigy, a head taller and ten steps faster than any of his classmates, but if he got beat up on varsity it could ruin him as a player. Or, he could excel and get a big head about himself, losing the impressive work ethic he'd shown while in junior high.
With Madisonville's playoff hopes on the line, Morgan made the call. He put the freshman in as his starter and was amazed by the results.
“It was ridiculous. He ran for like 800 yards and nine touchdowns in four games. It was like, 'I should have done this weeks ago,'” said Morgan.
On Whaley's legs, Madisonville made it into the playoffs. The Mustangs fell to Robinson in bi-district, but the stage was set for the talented runner to burst onto the scene.
“His sophomore year he came out and tore everything up,” said Morgan.
By tearing everything up, Morgan means Whaley ran for 2,130 yards and 27 touchdowns as only a sophomore. Knowing he was going to be the starter, Whaley worked hard in the summer, but even he didn't expect to have the kind of season he had.
“It just all kind of happened. My goal was like 1,500 and I ended up going for 2,130. The next year I set a goal for 3,000, but I didn't quite break that,” said Whaley, laughing.
While he didn't rush for 3,000, Whaley put up 2,119 and 28 touchdowns on his way to first-team All-State honors. According to Morgan, those numbers are even more impressive considering that defenses were gunning for Whaley on almost every down.
“His sophomore year we kind of attributed it to them not knowing much about this kid. Last year he still puts up those numbers and we weren't hiding him,” said Morgan. “We'd easily get nine in the box. There are times they aren't covering wideouts. They'll show us a man-look outside with our receivers and they'll bring them in from the edge and leave our receivers wide open.”
Because of his concern, Morgan actually warned Whaley before the 2007 season that he may not be able to put up as impressive numbers as he did as a sophomore.
“I brought him in before his junior year and said, 'Now, your numbers may drop. Your carries won't, but your yardage may, because they know who you are and they're going to load the box to try and stop you.' It didn't work, fortunately for us,” said Morgan.
Whaley's impressive sophomore season didn't just catch the eye of opposing defenders. The Texas Longhorns had taken notice and were already recruiting the Madisonville star before he even began his junior campaign.
“It was at the beginning of my junior year that Coach (Morgan) told me that they were starting to look at me. At the end of my sophomore year coach (Ken) Rucker had come down and he was looking a me,” said Whaley.
It was clear from the get-go to Texas that Whaley had the skills to get it done on the field, but the Horns also showed early interest because there were no issues in the classroom. In fact, much of of his junior day visit was spent discussing academics.
“On my visit, that's what (the Texas coaches) talked about most of the time, about academics, how your classes are going to be, how they want you to do this. They're real big on academics,” said Whaley.
That visit was also when Whaley was officially offered by Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns. So, on his February 10th visit to UT, he gave his commitment to Texas and hasn't looked back. Whaley said he respected how much the Longhorns focus on academics and loved the family atmosphere, but he'd hoped long before his visit to the 40 Acres that Austin was where he was headed.
“Texas has always been my favorite school since I started playing football in the seventh grade,” said Whaley. “I never knew I would get the opportunity to play for Texas, but when they offered me a full scholarship, I knew it was where I wanted to go.”
Whaley holds a 3.1 GPA and, although he hasn't decided on a major yet, is leaning toward business. He's strong in football and strong in academics, but Morgan said Whaley is strong in much more than that. He's strong in character.
“Our principal put it best, he said, 'If someone came to me and asked me to name the top 10 kids at school, not athletically or academically, just the top 10 all-around good folks, Chris would definitely be in the top 10,' said Morgan. “He's always smiling, he's the friendliest guy you've ever met and he doesn't have that air about him like he's an elite athlete. That makes it all ever better because he's such a good guy. He doesn't get in trouble at school. He doesn't get in trouble on the streets. Everybody just loves him.”
Whaley -- with a big, braces-filled smile on his face -- agreed whole-heartedly.
“I love to play. I'm always joking with my teammates. I love hanging with my buddies. I'm just always in a good mood, smiling, playing around,” said Whaley.
However, when the lights are on, Whaley is all business. The 6-foot-3, 228-pound running back told Inside Texas that the quality he's most proud of is his leadership.
“I try to make everybody work hard and I work hard to do what I do. I want to win. I don't like losing,” said Whaley.
One of the people in his life that Whaley draws strength from, both on and off the field, is his brother Alonzo Whaley. Alonzo played linebacker and fullback for Madisonville, meaning for the past three years Chris has had his older brother line up in front of him in the Mustang backfield. Morgan said Alonzo was a huge help to Chris as he started on his already incredible football career.
“He was a good motivator for Chris,” said Morgan. “He challenged him quite a bit to be more physical or turn it up when he thought, in his mind, Chris wasn't getting it done. We're going to miss that, that's for sure, but luckily Chris is a good guy and he's pretty self-motivated.”
Whaley said that it was great having a fullback as big as he is running with him and enjoyed having Alonzo at his side, motivating him each step of the way.
“We always got along, me and my brother,” said Chris. “He always motivated me and challenged me to do such and such and when I wasn't doing it he was always telling me, 'Chris, you gotta come on.'”
Chris' biggest support, though, came from his mother. Whaley's father died when he was young, meaning that it was up to Annie to raise the boys.
“She did a tremendous job keeping them out of trouble and keeping them involved in athletics,” said Morgan. “How many times do you hear stories about kids going the wrong way? But she did good. She did real well.”
Alonzo is now headed to the University of Nebraska and Chris will be off to Texas in 2009, both on football scholarships. Morgan said that his biggest concern now is finding a fullback to run in front of Chris, especially considering that, without a proven quarterback, the Mustangs plan on running the ball even more in 2008.
“Here we are with eight or nine in the box and with a very limited threat of throwing the ball. So it's going to be even more of a challenge next year with Chris,” said Morgan.
Whaley is well aware of the challenge he's going to face, but told IT he's ready for it.
“That defense is going to be focusing on me. I know I'm going to have to step up real big next year. We're going to have a lot of spots to fill next year and some of the spots are kind of iffy. But I'm preparing for it. I'll be ready,” said Whaley.
Loosing 31 seniors will leave a lot of spots iffy, for sure, and Morgan, well aware of the pressure of coaching high school football in small-town Texas, cautions that even if Whaley doesn't rush for the full 2000 he plans on, it doesn't mean he had a down year.
“I can hear it now. He rushes for 1800 yards and 25 touchdowns and they'll go, 'Well, he sat on his butt his senior year,' when that's not actually the case because he'll get more carries next year than he did as a junior,” said Morgan.
That's the nature of football in Texas. With great performance comes great expectations and Whaley has had tons of great performances to hang his hat on.
“Believe it or not, it's kind of a positive-negative in our community at the football games,” said Morgan. “If Chris doesn't rush for 300 yards and five touchdowns or he doesn't break two 80-yard runs, people go, 'Chris didn't do much tonight, did he?' Well if you look at the stat sheet, he ran for 220 yards and a pair of scores. That's a whole lot better than 'not much.'”
Now the Longhorns are hoping that Whaley will be able to bring his 220-yard 'not much' performances to Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, starting in the fall of 2009.
Members Only Information on Chris Whaley
Chris Whaley was recruited very, very early by the Texas Longhorns, but when did he actually receive his scholarship offer? Plus, will he be the only back Texas takes for 2009? How would he react if the Horns did go after another? Is there any temptation to decommit and follow his brother Alonzo to Nebraska? -- Members Only: Whaley's Offer; Will He Be the Only '09 Back?
Also, Chris Whaley is a running back now, but is Texas recruiting him exclusively at the position? Is he too tall? Well, as it turns out, up isn't the direction the Madisonville coaches are most worried about him growing. -- Members Only: Chris Whaley's Size Concern; Will He Stay at RB?