Utah football: Jason Whittingham has the name and the game
With the name "Whittingham" on the back of his jersey, Utah freshman Jason Whittingham wanted to prove he'd earned his spot on the Utes' roster and wasn't given a scholarship out of the generosity of his uncle, who just happens to be the Utes' head coach.
Not only has he proved his worth, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound freshman out of Timpview High School is competing for a starting role.
With the team planning to use versatile junior Trevor Reilly at both linebacker and defensive end, Whittingham leads the competition to start in Reilly's place at linebacker when the veteran is starting at end.
Freshman Jared Norris, senior Dave Fagergren, sophomore V.J. Fehoko and freshman L.T. Filiaga are also battling for playing time, but Whittingham has an edge on the others.
"He is having a good camp for us," Kyle Whittingham said. "His pass rush has been excellent. We bring that strong side linebacker off the edge quite often and he has a real feel for rushing the quarterback."
Getting pressure on the quarterback is something the Utes want to see more of this year. Utah ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in sacks and tackles for loss in 2011, but was inconsistent at times in getting to the quarterback.
Even though he is young and still learning the system, Jason Whittingham believes he can help the Utes.
"I've learned a lot since spring ball and I've improved physically over the summer," he said. "The biggest thing for me now is getting the mental part of the game down."
Getting that aspect of the game down will come, the Utes believe, and for now they are satisfied in the progress he has made and the potential he shows.
"There is no question he belongs at this level," Kyle Whittingham said. "He runs extremely well and he is learning it's a different world playing [on the outside], living on the edge, but he is a baller."
Despite his raw potential, Jason Whittingham was overlooked by most schools in the recruiting process. Perhaps many of the major schools stayed away believing it was a lost cause to recruit him given his family lineage.
After helping Timpview win three straight state titles, Jason Whittingham's options were to attend Utah or go to a smaller school.
It wasn't a hard decision to head to the U.
"They recruited me like I was a normal player with coach [Kalani] Sitake and my uncle recruiting me," he said. "Once they offered, there was no doubt in my mind where I was going to go."
Kyle Whittingham joked that the recruiting process included a little "blood is thicker than water" advantage, but he also said he could see the youngster had potential.
A former linebacker himself, Kyle Whittingham said the freshman was more like his brother, Cary, than himself.
"He is long, fast and has good size," he said. "I was an undersized guy, an overachiever. He has all the tools."
While proud of the Whittingham name on his jersey, Jason admitted it adds a bit of weight, too.
"I know he put his head on the line for me when he offered a scholarship and I want to work hard for him," he said. "It's not just about me, but his job is on the line and I feel like I have to work harder to prove myself, and to prove to myself, too, I deserve to be here."
He has gotten the jersey; now it sounds like he'll get his chance, too.
• 6-2, 240, Fr.
• Provo, Utah
• Signed with the Utes before leaving on an LDS mission in 2009. ... Lettered in football and baseball. ...Part of a Timpview team that won three state titles (2006, '07, '08). ... All-state and all-valley in 2008.