One of the most intriguing football prospects at Arkansas' Elite Camp on Thursday did not play a single down of football last season.
But when new Marion football coach Jed Davis started walking the halls he realized that he had to get 6-4, 250-pound Cortez Whitaker to come out on the gridiron as well as competing on the basketball court.
"When I got there, there were only about 20 kids in offseason," Davis said. "I spent every day all day walking halls and talking to kids. He put me off for about a month, but I wore him down. I said 'Son, you have got to come out and play football.' He had always played basketball and I told him there is not a lot of 6-4, 250-pound (college) basketball players, but there are 6-4, 250-pound (college) defensive ends. That kind of convinced him and then all of his buddies started coming back out and that kind of convinced him.
"It's been about just changing the culture," Davis added.
After going through spring drills at defensive end, Whitaker – who did play football at West Memphis Christian as a sophomore – agrees football might be his future.
"I like the hype and action of football," the shy Whitaker said. "I have fun playing it and I think I can take this far. I just need to work on my technique. I want to get bigger, faster and better at what I am doing...I think I can be a good D-end if I work hard."
Davis knows Whitaker passes the eye test.
"I've got a lot of God-given ability to work with for sure," Davis said.. "Kids with his height, weight, size and speed they don't walk through the doors very often. The biggest thing we have got to do is turning him into a football player because he is an athlete right now.
"Especially on defense, because that is where he is going to make his calling as – a defensive end," Davis said. "We threw a bubble (screen) in spring ball on the backside on the hash and he ran it down. We got like two yards on it.
"But on the flip side of that, he has to learn how to be aggressive and play with technique," Davis continued. "He has gotten by on just talent alone, especially playing at West Memphis Christian as a 10th grader. That's a good school, but the talent that they play is really low. Now he has got to play against North Little Rock, Cabot, Jonesboro and teams like that. He has to learn how to play with his hands, low to the ground and stuff like that."
It's clear that Whitaker is low key.
"He is very reserved," Davis said. "I take him home most days and if I don't ask him a specific question, he may go the whole time without saying two words to me. But he is a great kid – yes sir, yes mam. We have had some team functions at my house and my young son and daughter just love him. He plays with them and he is just great. He is just shy."
Whitaker doesn't know his vertical jump, but knows how high he gets above the rim.
"Very far," Whitaker said.
Davis is hoping this camp will jump start the future for Whitaker.
"I think that he needs to show them that he can run with his size," Davis said. "I think the biggest thing was just for him to come up here so they could all look at him. You can say somebody is 6-4, 240 or 250, but when you see him you realize that is what he really is, not just a number on the roster. We just need to show them that his motor goes."
Athletic Whitaker Looks To Impress Arkansas
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