Javin Whatley knew he was going to have to bring out his best to be a starting receiver for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga this season.
Receiver is probably the Mocs' deepest position group in terms of young talent -- 10 of the 13 on the roster are either freshmen or sophomores — and at 5-foot-9, 164 pounds, Whatley was never going to be confused with being some physical specimen at first glance. And while he had been a high school standout for Georgia's Rockmart, it was as a dual-threat quarterback.
But then look at the Mocs' 31-0 season-opening win against Wofford last Saturday, and who was one of UTC's three starters at receiver? None other than Whatley, who finished with 26 yards on two catches, including an 18-yarder on a seam route over a defender.
While he may have redshirted last season as a freshman, he took a competitive mindset to the classroom and was on both the athletic director's honor roll and the dean's list.
"I'm a dog in everything I do," Whatley said. "I've always been the smallest person on the field since I started playing football. So everybody else has been bigger than me, but I've always had that mentality.
"I've got a lot of heart, for real. I just look at it like if anything is 50/50 and I'm on the other half, it's always going to be on the outcome. You've got to have that mindset in anything that you do, and that's my mindset always."
That mentality has been noticed by teammates and coaches. For the Mocs to meet their goal of having a balanced offense, receivers must block — and that requires technique, of course, but first it requires a willingness to do the job. Offensive lineman Colin Truett recently told GoMocs.com that Whatley was welcome in the offensive line room anytime because of the receiver's willingness to go block anyone.
Receivers coach Ricky Spradling, formerly the Mocs' running backs coach, admitted that when Whatley signed with UTC, he wanted him as a running back but realized he would not be able to put on the weight necessary to take punishment from opposing defenses at that position, where contact is more frequent and more intense. So Whatley found a home at receiver, spending last season behind a lot of experienced players and learning a new position.
"The kid weighs 165 pounds, and he's willing to throw his hat in there and hit linebackers and the D-line, it doesn't matter. I just think he's an unbelievable athlete," Spradling said, before acknowledging the potential of the entire position group by saying "once we give these guys a little bit of time, I think they're going to be highly explosive."
Spradling's group has a combination of unselfishness and competitiveness that should help its members live up to their potential. When asked about any individual goals he might have for the season, Whatley didn't have any but admitted it would be nice to score a touchdown while adding "but whatever. God will bless me with how God blesses me. I know my hard work will tell."
Whatley acknowledged getting on the field so soon is "an accomplishment" while also saying "but there's more work to be done."
"You can't just stop because you're in the starting lineup; you've got to keep going because there's still competition," he added. "There's other guys that want to have the same opportunity as you, and you're all working because you want that opportunity. So you just have to keep going and competing every day."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.