Athlete Update: Jason Whitaker

Former FSU All-American Jason Whitaker is nervous. For starters, he's getting married this weekend, and groomsmen include former Seminole teammates Todd Fordham, Ross Brannon and Billy Rhodes. Whitaker also was recently named the head football coach at Munroe High School. Of course, Whitaker also has kept a close eye on FSU. "They lost four games last year and I lost six in five (years). You know it had to happen sooner or later. ... I don't think some players gave their all," he said.

Jason Whitaker is starting to get a little nervous. No wonder.

For starters, Whitaker and his longtime girlfriend (Maria) are getting married Saturday on the Florida State campus. Groomsmen include former FSU teammates Todd Fordham, Ross Brannon, and Billy Rhodes, to name a few.

After honeymooning at St. Lucia in the Caribbean, Whitaker will return to Tallahassee for, as he says laughingly, the real fun -- and the main reason behind his butterflies. Whitaker's the new head football coach at Munroe High School in nearby Mt. Pleasant.

"It's so exciting but I am starting to get nervous, too," Whitaker said. "I am already planning our summer schedule. We will start lifting and conditioning on June 3. I will try to get them motivated and read for the upcoming season."

Whitaker has never lacked in motivation or focus.

Whitaker, who will turn 25 in June, was an All-American offensive guard for the Seminoles from 1996 through 1999. He was a team captain with the 1999 undefeated national championship team at FSU and started his final 24 games. Whitaker, from Panama City Mosely High, was the Seminoles' quintessential leader, a throwback who spoke his mind and played the game with one purpose -- to win.

At 6-6 and 300 pounds, the colorful Whitaker didn't look like the prototypical athlete. He always joked he felt like he was 100 years old due to an assortment of injuries. In fact, teammates called Whitaker "Bug" after the alien cockroach that stuffed itself into a human body in the movie "Men In Black." The movie "Bug" had a difficult time on two feet, twitching and walking stiff-legged. Whitaker's gait was somewhere between a senior citizen and very old senior citizen.

"I guess he (Whitaker) is intimidating to look at and he can move for his size, but I can't really think of anybody who plays the game of football with more heart," said former FSU teammate Clay Ingram.

Whitaker has poured his heart into coaching as well.

After an unsuccessful attempt to play in the NFL, Whitaker gave up football and returned to Panama City to sell mobile homes. After seven months, Whitaker decided he missed football and decided to move back to Tallahassee. He landed at Florida High School, where he earned his teaching certification and was added to the football staff. He was the Seminoles' junior varsity head coach last season. His last day at Florida High is this Friday.

"It's just something that happened," Whitaker said.

"I got into sales but it was something that I didn't enjoy. In fact, it reached the point where I hated going into work. I missed football and decided it was time to get out. The coaches here at Florida High gave me an opportunity, and it has worked out. I felt that high school football was the way to go. I actually get to coach and actually get to teach. At the collegiate level, you already have the skill. You get to develop that skill here at the high school level."

At Munroe, Whitaker takes over for Scott Klees,, who has assumed the defensive coordinator's position at Wakulla. Klees coached Munroe for two seasons, compiling an 11-10 record in two years - including a state playoff appearance last year after finishing as district runner-up behind defending state champion North Florida Christian. Whitaker attended Munroe's spring jamboree last Friday, watching the action from the stands.

"They looked very good," Whitaker said. "One or two changes, and I think we are going to be fine and back in the playoffs."

Whitaker will handle the Bobcats' offensive responsibilities. Former FSU standout and graduate assistant coach Steve Gabbard called Whitaker a coach on the field when he played for the Seminoles. "You couldn't get anything by him," Gabbard said. "He is very football smart. He has seen it all. He's not the most graceful human to ever grace the Seminole uniform but he will dominate a game like our other hard-nosed players in the past who have been All-Americans. When the lights go on, he is there to play and there to make a statement."

Whitaker plans to run the spread offense at Munroe, with an emphasis on the running game. He also enjoys dealing with young men who are chasing their dreams on the football field -- much like himself nearly a decade ago.

"I am going to stick with what I know," Whitaker said.

"I think I can handle six guys in the (defensive) box, but I don't know if I can teach five guys how to block 10. But I really enjoy being around the kids. I think it's pretty much the same when I played. They are still goofy and will make silly mistakes. Fifteen- to 17-year-olds aren't going to change too much. Some of them will be out there giving their all, but they are all going to make mistakes and sometimes you wonder what the heck they are thinking about."

Of course, Whitaker also has kept close eye on the Seminoles, who struggled to an 8-4 record last season. Whitaker believes the program will once again contend for national championship honors this season. However, he also felt the Seminoles lacked in certain areas last year.

"It was sick and embarrassing last year," Whitaker said.

"They lost four games last year and I lost six in five (years). You know it had to happen sooner or later, but you just never thought it would happen. I don't know what it was. I just don't think some of the players gave it their all, they just didn't seem to have the same intensity. I've talked to other guys and in tough situations it seemed like they would fold more. They were young and had injuries. .... but they will rectify that, you can bet on it."

Of course, Whitaker has his own concerns at the moment. He should have a solid group to coach at Munroe. Last year's team went 8-2 in the regular season before falling in the first round of the playoffs to Jay. The Bobcats return eight starters on both offense and defense. Whitaker also is finalizing his wedding plans, in addition to finding sun screen and a bathing suit.

"I tried to get her (Maria) up in the mountains, but she wanted the fun in the sun," Whitaker said. "You see who won."

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