Jordan Whittley isn’t afraid to speak his mind, no matter the situation.
Even though Whittley was wrapping up his junior college career at Laney College in Oakland, he didn’t like what he saw from Oregon State’s defensive line last season when it came to their ability to stop the run (128th out of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision team at 281.8 per game).
So when he arrived at Oregon State for spring practices, he made sure he let his teammates know right away changes needed to be made in 2019.
“We’ve got to be way more physical than last year, we’ve got to play more aggressive, we’ve got to show opponents that we can be bullies, too, and not just get bullied on,” he said last week. “That’s what we did a lot in the spring – a lot of meetings, a lot of people getting yelled at because I get offensive when a team runs over 100 yards on me.”
Whittley’s bluntness likely caught some of his new teammates off guard a little, or even rubbed them the wrong way.
“At first they didn’t like it,” Whittley admitted. “First they talked back and that’s what we needed. We needed somebody to be able to say something when nobody was saying nothing. Everything is not OK.
“We all respected each other. Nobody is really going to (express) how they feel until we start saying it and we started getting somewhere instead of going backward.”
For Isaac Hodgins, now a sophomore, it was a fair assessment and he didn’t mind Whittley getting the conversation started.
“Yeah I remember he came in and just wanted to see a change and I appreciate that because I want someone who is passionate like that on the D-line with me,” said Hodgins, who played in all 12 games and made 11 starts as a true freshman.
“Everyone feels that way. I mean there’s no hiding it, we did terrible last year and a lot of pressure is on (the D-line) to get better and be the bread winners of this family and help this team go farther.”
With his disdain for seeing teams rush for more than 100 yards a game — something he said never happened in his two seasons at Laney — then what possessed Whittley to come to Oregon State knowing how bad the defense was a season ago?
“I like being the underdog,” he explained. “I like having the chip on my shoulder coming in. I don’t want to be going to a big program and get my name lost and just being a player on the roster. I want to come to where I make a name for myself and turn people’s heads, like what is Oregon State doing this year? What was it that made them do that? Oh, Jordan Whittley, that guy’s amazing. I want people to do that rather than, oh he went to Alabama, they’re always good. I want to show people I’m good.”
While Whittley appears to be in a good place now, his journey to Oregon State was filled with what he said were “a lot of nightmares.”
A standout running back in high school, Whittley signed to play at San Jose State but academic issues kept him from attending school. A year later, he enrolled at Laney College, but suffered a torn ACL in his first game.
A tough pill to swallow, he wasn’t sure what the future was going to hold and he began to struggle.
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Whittley, who was around 225 pounds as a high school senior, ballooned up near the 400-pound mark before realizing he had to make a change. He’s now listed at 6-foot-1, 324 pounds on the OSU roster.
“I didn’t want to be fat anymore,” he said with a laugh. “I was tired of just lugging myself around and just making excuses for myself so I just sucked it you, did what I had to do and it happened.”
Whitley also had another decision to make: change to defensive line or give up playing football at Laney. It was another blow.
“It was like everything that was given to me was stripped away so I didn’t really value it as much,” he said. “I really had to build over and start over and make sure I was doing the right things and coming back ready. Then when I was told I couldn’t play running back any more I was like I wanted to give up again.”
But with plenty of support, especially Laney head coach John Beam, around him, Whittley decided to accept the challenge.
The end result was a state championship last season, being rated the top JC team in the country by Massey and an opportunity to play Division I football.
“My head coach at Laney saw something different in me,” he said. “… He worked with me, I had the drive and we finished it out. It was a great season and great opportunity to be here now and have the opportunity to do what I did in JUCO, maybe more.”
Whittley says his biggest strengths now are learning through watching film, his power and his speed, which may be a bit deceiving.
“Most guys just see a big body and don’t really think a person can move, he’s not agile,” Whittley said. “Then like when the play goes I’m in the backfield and they wonder how the hell did this guy get back here.”
The former running back now loves to put them in their place.
“I love getting to the running back before he gets a chance to even make a move,” Whittley said. “That’s my favorite play right there. If I get a couple of those I would be happy. I love getting the quarterback, too. I love doing both.”
Hodgins likes how Whittley will fit in on the Beavers’ defensive line this season.
“He’s a really strong dude so he’s a guy who can push the pocket on the D-line which kind of compliments me because I’m more of a speed, finesse guy,” Hodgins said. “I like to switch it up with power and stuff, but having someone who can push the pocket on the D-line is good.”
Just having an opportunity to become one of the top defensive linemen in the Pac-12 and beyond is something Whittley doesn’t take for granted.
“It was a real long journey, I toughed it out, stuck through it, I trusted myself and the people around me that gave me the ability to get better, to tie into what I’m doing to make sure I’m focused on what I’m doing,” he said.