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April 3, 2012

The transformation of Chris Whaley

Chris Whaley's high school coach at Madisonville, Greg Morgan, thought the Texas coaches had lost their minds.

Defensive tackles coach Bo Davis told Morgan he wanted Whaley, one of the most prolific running backs in Texas high school history, to move to the defensive line with a week left in spring football in 2011.

Morgan questioned the move. He told Davis Whaley had never played defense. Morgan told Davis Whaley's goofy, fun-loving personality might not be the right temperament for defense; and Morgan simply wondered aloud if the move wouldn't be the beginning of the end of Whaley's college football career.

Finally, Davis interrupted and said:

"In two years, he's going to make a lot of money."

"That's how he put it," Morgan said. "And Coach Davis has put a few in the NFL, so fingers are crossed."

THE FUTURE AT RB: Whaley had put up crazy numbers carrying the football at 3A Madisonville.

More than 8,000 yards rushing in his high school career. More than 100 touchdowns. He averaged 9 yards per carry and holds four of the top 30 single-game rushing yards performances in Texas high school history, including a 490-yard, seven-touchdown performance against Rusk.

He was the only running back Texas recruited in the class of 2009. There were other backs who might have come to Texas like Texas A&M's Christine Michael. But Whaley was the only back in the class.

"Texas sort of banked the farm on him as a running back," Morgan said.

And Morgan was confident Whaley would be special at Texas. Everything pointed to that. Whaley's older brother, Alonzo Whaley, was already a rising star linebacker at Nebraska. The bloodlines were there.

"Alonzo had to really work at becoming a great athlete," Morgan said. "Chris was sort of touched by God with athleticism."

OBVIOUS TALENT OR OBLIVIOUS?: And as talented as Whaley was, Morgan said Whaley often seemed oblivious to it.

"Chris was all-state, all-star, all-American," Morgan said. "If you were a stranger, you wouldn't have known. You would have looked at him and said, 'What a good-looking athlete. He probably plays football.' But he would have never told you what he had accomplished athletically. That's just not a part of his nature."

So as Morgan watched Whaley enroll at Texas in 2009 as a 230-pound back and then start gaining weight during his redshirt season, he wondered what was going to happen next.

CHANGE IN DIRECTION: In 2010, Whaley couldn't beat out Cody Johnson for the tailback position, and Whaley saw action at running back only sparingly in four games. He was mostly on special teams. Meanwhile, he continued to gain weight.

The critics were already calling Whaley a bust. Texas was being blasted for making him the only running back of the 2009 class. Everything was headed in the wrong direction.

"Chris had tried the weight loss and the things the coaches were asking of him," Morgan said. "But the harder he tried to lose weight, the more he gained, it seemed.

"Especially the on-line community seemed to throw him under the bus as being fat and lazy. The coaches at Texas would tell you that wasn't the case, that he's just a young man who continued to grow. He's a young man who has added 55 pounds since he got to Texas.

"And he could probably grow another 20 or 30 before it's over."

ENTER BO DAVIS: With a week left in spring football last year, Bo Davis went to Mack Brown and said he wanted to take a look at Chris Whaley on the defensive line. It was a radical move. But Brown trusted Davis' instincts. And Brown had seen it work before with guys like Henry Melton and Lamarr Houston.

Then, Davis went to Whaley. Unsure of what to expect, Whaley was happy someone still had a vision for him.

"Chris saw the writing on the wall," Morgan said. "So (Bo Davis) came in and talked him up and was excited about getting him. Davis convinced Whaley that he had some God-given abilities that he could work with and develop into a fine defensive lineman."

NO MORE WEIGHT WATCHING: Suddenly, instead of dieting and working out constantly to keep the weight off, he was allowed to eat normally.

Davis convinced Chris that the things that made him special as a running back, things like lower hip flexibility and his speed, would make him hard to block as a defensive lineman.

"Suddenly, Chris was being told by Coach Davis that his explosiveness as a running back would be a weapon on the defensive line against less athletic offensive linemen," Morgan said. "So Chris has really taken to the coaching of Coach Davis. He's really bought into the program and working with the defensive line."

MAKING AN IMPACT: Whaley's first season on the defensive line produced positive results. He played in all 13 games at defensive tackle with one start. He had QB pressures against BYU, Kansas State and Texas A&M.

He broke up a pass against OU. He had two tackles, including one behind the line at Missouri. He registered a sack and two tackles in a shutout of Kansas.

And he recovered a fumble in the Holiday Bowl against Cal and helped the defense hold Cal to 7 yards rushing and 195 total yards.

"Usually guys on the defensive line have to really work on their speed and hip flexibility," Morgan said. "Well, Chris came into the position with those things.

"Now, he's just got to learn how to defeat blocks, take on double teams and fill gaps. He's on the learning curve. But he loves working with Bo Davis and thinks a lot of Manny Diaz.

"I think Coach Davis is excited about working with Chris as well. He's taken a kid who has been at a skill position his whole life and now has him in a three or four point stance. We're hoping for great things for him. But I know Chris is excited about working with Coach Davis."

FUN-LOVING BUT FOCUSED: Whaley's personality came in handy when people were starting to doubt him. Whaley, according to teammates, is never in a bad mood.

"Chris is a goofy guy," said linebacker Jordan Hicks. "He has a lot of fun out there. He's passionate about the game. He switched positions and has just rolled with it. He's supportive and very competitive. He's really working hard, because he wants to be special at defensive tackle."

SUPER MOM: Morgan said Whaley has handled his position switch with great maturity for a guy who constantly seems to be joking around.

"A lot of kids get dissatisfied and transfer," Morgan said. "It never crossed Chris' mind. Once he signed with Texas he was going to be loyal to the burnt orange. He's tickled to be there with an opportunity to play for the University of Texas.

"He lost his father when he was a child, before Chris was the age of 2. So there was quite a bond there between he and his mother, Annie. She did a great job of raising Alonzo and Chris and their younger brother Mark.

"They could have gotten lost and gotten off track in a single-parent home," Morgan added. "But his mother loved him and raised him right, disciplined him accordingly, allowed the coaches to coach him accordingly. She never interfered with his coaching. She raised him the right way.

"She and her two oldest sons are going to reap the benefit of that rearing."

THINGS ARE LOOKING UP: Morgan saw Whaley in Madisonville over spring break, and it's clear that Whaley would run through a brick wall for Bo Davis.

Whaley is growing more comfortable with taking on blocks, shedding them and being an every-down tackle, even though he and junior college transfer DT Brandon Moore may be the team's pass-rush specialists.

"Knowing that someone there wanted him on that side and went after him and got him, Chris is going to show that loyalty back to Coach Davis 1,000-fold," Morgan said.

"Even though Chris came in as a star running back, he knows this is his opportunity to help the Longhorns and for himself to get some quality playing time. He's really excited about it."


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