When Chris Whaley takes the field as the starting nose tackle for Texas against Wyoming, it will be one of the more remarkable position switches in recent UT history if for no other reason than Whaley hated playing defense in high school.
"I played free safety as a freshman, started the first give games there, but I didn't like hitting people," Whaley said. "I wanted to carry the ball."
Whaley said Tuesday defensive players used to joke with him from the day he set foot on the UT campus that it was only a matter of time before he'd be with them.
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"They said I was just like Henry Melton and that I'd change from running back to defensive line," Whaley said.
But Whaley wasn't hearing it.
"I was all about being a running back. I never thought of playing defense," Whaley said.
But as he kept gaining weight, Texas strength and conditioning coach Jeff "Mad Dog" Madden started to chime in.
"You ready to move over to defense yet?" Madden smiled. Whaley blew it off.
Then, two springs ago, when Mack Brown recommended to Whaley that he start working at fullback, H-back and tight end, Whaley decided to go talk to Mad Dog again.
"It was really a little bit of my idea and also strength and conditioning coach Jeff Madden," Whaley said.
Whaley said it was no problem putting on the weight to play on the defensive line.
"That was the easy part, eating," Whaley said. "But I've never gotten to 300 pounds. I got up to 297, but then I started losing the weight. I'm at 293 now. But I still have my speed."
Whaley said former Texas DT Kheeston Randall took him in two years ago, and then DT coach Bo Davis convinced him he could be an NFL player one day.
"Kheeston Randall, he was an upper classman when I first moved over, and he took me in and taught me everything," Whaley said.
"Coach Davis is a great coach and also taught me how to do everything. So I never felt out of place and always just felt at home."
It was Davis who taught Whaley how to take on a double team, something he'll do quite often as the nose tackle lining up next to JUCO transfer DT Brandon Moore.
Now, when people compare Whaley to Henry Melton, he's OK with it.
"I had one coach mention that to me, and he just said that this is a great opportunity for me and to keep working hard," Whaley said. "And that is all I really just want to do. Keep working hard and hopefully I can do the same thing (Melton's) done."
MY TAKE: Manny Diaz said Monday that Whaley may have won the starting job before fall camp even started. He said that's because Whaley's teammates all talked about how hard he worked over the summer to master his craft as a defensive tackle.
Whaley has an infectious personality. Guys gravitate toward him because he's always smiling. But when it comes to football, Whaley is all business. His high school coaches told me Whaley is dead-set focused on making it to the NFL, a la Melton, because Bo Davis told those coaches "Chris has a chance to make a lot of money in the NFL."
The reason is obivously because of Whaley's speed. Diaz said, "Every team should have defensive back speed. But when you're defensive linemen are fast like Chris Whaley or your linebackers run like safeties, then you're a fast defense."
Whaley will be a great story to follow this season. His speed gives him an edge on that DL.