The way Donte Whitner has been playing this year there's a real possibility that he could be a valuable commodity in the NFL draft if he would decide to forego his final year of eligibility at Ohio State and turn professional.
It's something the Whitner himself has admittedly thought about already.
"It comes to my mind sometimes but basically I just want to play hard for my seniors right now. I want to win the Big Ten title and send the seniors out well," Whitner said. "And then after the season and the accolades, everybody is going to get their individual accolades and their team accolades, then you take it from there. You wait until the end of the season and make that decision."
After an eight tackle performance against Illinois with, two of those eight resulting in losses, Whitner now has, unofficially, 56 tackles on the season, with eight of those 56 resulting in losses. Throw two interceptions on the campaign into the mix and it's quite easy to see that this former prep All-American from Glenville High School is putting together quite a season for himself.
But Whitner has a list of priorities right now and deciding whether or not to turn professional at the end of this season is not at the top of his list at this time.
"It's sending the seniors out on top," he said. "In my freshman year the senior class went out well. We had a chance to go to the national championship but we didn't. We went to Michigan and lost and then went to the Fiesta Bowl and beat Kansas state. Last year the seniors went out well, beating Michigan and going to the Alamo Bowl and beating Oklahoma State. And this year we want to send the seniors out with a great legacy, like Nate (Salley) and A.J. (Hawk) and all of those guys."
Whitner is a third-year junior but he enrolled at Ohio State early, along with Ashton Youboty, and he's been a Buckeye almost as long as some of the fourth-year seniors like Nate Salley and Tyler Everett and A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter and Mike Kudla and Rob Sims and Nick Mangold, to name a few.
"I do feel like it is my time to shine but this is Nate's secondary. Nate Salley, it's his secondary," he said. "He's a senior, he's a three-year starter, this is his secondary. I'm just glad to be able to play with him and Ashton (Youboty) and Tyler (Everett) and all of those guys. It's really Nate's secondary."
But Whitner is certainly an integral part of the secondary, no question. He's quietly putting together an All-American type of season. But he's not the only former Tarblooder who is enjoying a good season for the Buckeyes.
Troy Smith, a fourth-year junior who was leading the Big Ten in passing efficiency going into the Illinois game, was 13 of 21 passing on the day for 298 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Illini. His longest completion of the game went for a 73-yard touchdown to Ted Ginn, another prep star from Glenville.
Ginn had 4 catches for 138 yards and the one touchdown and ran one time out of the shot gun formation for 8 yards. But Ginn, who accounted for more than 200 yards of total offense for the second consecutive week, also had a 65-yard kickoff return that eventually set up a 3-yard scoring pass to Santonio Holmes to give Ohio State a 19-0 lead. Illinois recovered a fumble on the conversion attempt and returned it all the way for 2 points to make the score 19-2.
Whitner, like the other Tarblooders on the OSU roster, takes a lot of pride in representing Glenville High School and he thinks his former coach, Ted Ginn Sr. should get a lot of the credit for the success his former players are having at Ohio State.
"He gets all of the credit for this," Whitner said. "If it wasn't for him, me, Ted or Troy or Curtis (Terry) wouldn't be in this position. And Freddie Lenix is coming and it's all because of him. He has a lot of guys that want to transfer into Glenville because of the success that he's having and the job that he does there. All of the credit goes to him because he put us in this position."
With guys in waiting like Curtis Terry, Jamario O'Neal, Lenix and a few other Tarblooders who are likely to become Buckeyes when it's time to ink a national letter of intent in February, Ginn has created a phenomena that his players at Glenville can't help but feel proud to be a part of.
"Proud is the right word," Whitner said. "Coach Ginn does a great job, he works so hard to put guys in a position to be successful. He works non-stop there on the kids and he's all about getting guys to the next level and helping young kids from the inner city become successful."
Whitner is the epitome of that inner-city kid who's family life would change dramatically with a big NFL contract be it after this season or the next. But being from Glenville, he's not overwhelmed in the least bit by the success that he is having now at Ohio State.
"No I'm not because (Ginn's) always preached to us that a lot of the guys you see on TV and hear about are no better than you," Whitner said. "If we get the opportunity to get on that stage and show people what we could do, then you'll have people talking about you and you'll have the success that they're having.
"So he always told us that if you get on that level and you stay focused - you have the talent and you just have to stay focused and do the academic side of things - and you'll be okay."
Whitner has obviously heeded the much-respected advice from his mentor and he's now having the kind of career that he always knew that he could have at Ohio State.
"I did think I would have this career coming here," Whitner said. "Mel Tucker recruited me and he really explained things to me, he didn't lie to me or anything. He told me that if you come in and work hard you could play and you'll have a good career here."
It almost seems as if the game is becoming too easy for Whitner.
"It's becoming very easy," Whitner said. "From a freshman to being a junior - I wouldn't even say I'm a junior because I got here so early and I'm only a quarter behind Nate and all of those guys, and all of the practices except for that fall season I've been through with those guys. They have one fall season more than me and Ashton - I would really say that it's getting easy.
"My freshman year when I came out here it was going fast. Your sophomore year it starts to slow down but you're not really sure. And then once you become a junior or senior it's going so slow. Once you watch a lot of film the game goes so slow."
Whitner watches a lot of film and it shows in his game performance each week. He trusts in his preparation and he's able make plays because he has a real good idea of what's coming at certain times during the game.
"You do have to be an athlete but you have to go with what you see," he said. "If you see it on film, they're not going to change up their whole offense because they play us. They're going to go with what they do best. It's my job and the defensive coordinator's and the defensive players on this team to really watch film and know what they're doing and when that situation comes and be ready for it."
The kind of preparation Whitner puts in allows him to play his position so confidently and aggressively when he on the field.
"You don't want to assume the wrong thing some times but you just have to take chances some times on the football field," he said. "And today I read a lot of things out there because of my film study and things like that. And the defensive coaches have done a tremendous job all season getting us ready for these games and it's our job to go out there and make plays."
Whitner is making big plays and he's playing his best football of his career right now but he's still knows he needs to get better.
"Last year I had spurts where I'd do some things good and then mess up on a couple of things," Whitner said. "But the thing to being good is consistency. If you can do it on a consistent basis like A.J., that's why A.J. is so good because he consistently does it over time, then you're going to be a good player."
And if you're really good at what you do, like Whitner is, then you're destined to get paid for doing it on the next level. It's pretty safe to say that in Whitner's case, it's only a matter of time until he starts earning an NFL paycheck.