Despite entering the season with limited playing time, and no college starts, just one year removed from high school, Whitaker has been thrown into a role he seems well equipped to fill.
With an upbeat personality and a strong work ethic on the field, Whitaker is someone who has the respect of his coaches and teammates. On the field he readily admits that while he is considered a leader he's far from a finished product at defensive tackle.
Just like all of the other players at the position Whitaker points out that right now he is trying to improve every day and do his part to keep a young group working hard.
"We have just got to do a better job of staying in our gaps, especially with the rotation with the younger guys and older guys coming in," Whitaker says. "Just got to keep that tempo up from the last group, but I think we've got a long way to go, but there's a positive long way to go. We're not there yet, and it's just scary where we could be. Only thing is just keep working on the small details. It will get better."
Along with Whitaker in the starting rotation is fellow sophomore Kenneth Carter while junior Jamar Travis and true freshmen Angelo Blackson, Devaunte Sigler and Gabe Wright complete the six-man group seeing action at tackle. Coach Mike Pelton has said the plan is to rotate the players to keep them fresh and to allow the younger players to gain experience. Whitaker says the plan has helped so far and he predicts it's going to get better throughout the year.
"It's going to help a lot," he says. "One thing I noticed about last year with having a great season with the 14 games with the 30 days of extra practice and all that stuff, it was almost like the NFL season last year. One thing I know about that is when you take care of your body, the reps and the rotation are going to help so in the fourth quarter we're fresh.
"We're still fresh, we're still coming on strong, still sprinting to the ball," he says. "It's just the same as the first group. And then later in the season you're pounding your body, but it's not as much. And then another reason we've got confidence in a lot of people--I've got confidence in Angelo Blackson and Jamar Travis coming behind me. I think this is really a team because we all have to work together to get this thing done."
Last season Auburn's win over Clemson in overtime was a catapult on the way to the BCS National Championship as the Coach Gene Chizik's group survived a slow start to win a thriller at home. Whitaker notes that was the game that showed the team they had what it takes to win them all.
"I think that game started the spark," he says. "They had everything. We got them. We could be alright if we just keep taking it one game at a time. And you hear certain guys, I might have this game circled, but at the end of the day for us it's this game, that game, just take it one game at a time. We're not looking ahead. I think it was a great boost of motivation and our team last year. And I know they're going to come at us. Clemson is a very talented team--got a lot of respect for them."
This time around both teams are again looking for respect as Clemson is trying to rebound from a 6-7 season while Auburn is fighting for respectability itself despite winning its 17th consecutive game last weekend. Whitaker says with so many young players going on the road for the first time it will be up to the experienced player to get them ready. As a defensive lineman though he says his job as a leader is easy because it's just about playing the game and being physical. Everything else will take care of itself.
"It starts with us," Whitaker says. "It starts with the guys who have been there before setting the tone. Coming out, hitting, running. My deal is, I always say one thing about a defensive lineman: there's no such thing as a road game. The line of scrimmage is home. The field's going to be the same, same length, everything. The job for us is never going to change."
Whitaker and his Tigers, who are ranked 19th and 21st in the major polls this week, are off on Monday and will return to practice Tuesday evening to prepare for Auburn's first road trip to Clemson since 1970.