Pre-Oregon State Interview: Eric Whitaker

Kicker Eric Whitaker was one of the unsung heroes of Stanford's 56-48 victory over USC last Saturday. Though he had a few errors on kickoffs, Whitaker converted every field goal attempt, going 6-for-6 on extra points and 2-for-2 on field goals.

All the more impressive was the fact that Eric Whitaker isn't even the starter, but stepped in at the last minute when starter Jordan Williamson was unable to play due to a minor leg injury. The Bootleg caught up with Whitaker after Tuesday's practice to get his take on his performance and on the pressures of playing at USC.

The Bootleg: When did you know you'd be starting at USC?

Eric Whitaker: Not until Friday—I had no idea I was kicking field goals until Friday. Maybe Tuesday is when Jordan really got tweaked and we weren't sure about him. I started kicking again on Tuesday. Previously, I'd been focusing a lot on receiver*, so I just got back into the rhythm this week starting Tuesday, and then field goals I didn't know until Friday.

What was it like to kick in your first game of the season in the Coliseum at USC?

EW: There's no words really to describe it. I was nervous, but I was excited. I was finally given the opportunity to replace a great kicker in Jordan Williamson. It was an honor taking his place for this game, especially with it being such an exciting game. It was just a privilege and an honor, and I wouldn't have my first game any other way.

Can you talk about that extra point in the second overtime, the one that just got in?

EW: I can't really talk about it. Well, I can tell you one thing—I knew it was going to be a bad kick right when I made contact with it. I didn't want to look up, because I knew it was going to be a bad one. It came of my foot low—I knew it was going to be low. I didn't know if it was going to be left or right. I just felt my foot hit a little high up on the ball; that changes the trajectory of the ball. It gave me a little bit of a heart attack—everyone's been coming up to me telling me I gave them heart attacks, and hey, you include me in that list.

What happened on the two kickoffs that went out of bounds?

EW: To be honest, there's no excuse for either of them. The first one, I was just really anxious, my adrenaline was up…I was just really nervous, so I ran fast to the ball, bad approach. The second one I just tried to muscle up, because I wanted to try and prove myself, and I just wasn't relaxed out there at all.

Why did you guys decide to go to the high, short kicks?

EW: One of the reasons is because I was having trouble with them. I kicked two out of bounds. Some of those were supposed to be directional kicks for the deep kicks, and I think I hit two of them in the middle of the field. We kicked the one squib down the middle of the field because we wanted to make #74—the big, unathletic guy—handle the ball. The sky kick—the bloopy, short one—we just wanted to keep it away from Robert Woods.

How would you grade the special teams overall in the USC game?

EW: I think we did a great job. Drew Terrell did an amazing job returning the ball and fielding the catches. My kickoff squad did a great job getting my back and covering the kicks, and we answered where we needed to answer on the field goals. Overall, we did a great job on special teams.

Has it been tougher recovering this week than normal after a three-overtime game?

EW: No, not at all. We wouldn't want to have it any other way as a team. It was an exciting game—we had a lot of fun, we got tired, and we were able to show our physicality and our strength. We're just coming back off of an ordinary game.

*Did you know: David Shaw said that Whitaker asked to play wide receiver on the scout team after he lost the kicking competition to Williamson, so he had been doing that until Williamson got hurt. As we posted on our BootBoardPlus, Shaw also said that Williamson will most likely also be out for Oregon State, and thus, Whitaker is the kicker and isn't playing receiver on the scout team anymore -- at least until Williamson comes back. Delano Howell also isn't going to be back for Oregon State, per Shaw.

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