University of Tennessee at Chattanooga offensive coordinator Joe Pizzo recently called sophomore Javin Whatley "a utility player" for the UTC offense.
The label makes sense because although Whatley, a 5-foot-10, 169-pound slot receiver, is not always a featured part of the passing game, he has a skill set that can be called into duty whenever necessary.
"He plays inside, he plays outside, he can carry the football if I need him to carry the football," Pizzo said. "He can throw the football — he was a good quarterback in high school. He's a quiet kid, about his business, but he shows up every Saturday, which is a real benefit."
Whatley went over 1,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in each of his final two prep seasons as a quarterback at Rockmart in northwest Georgia, and he had spent little time at receiver before signing with the Mocs. However, UTC head coach Rusty Wright pointed out that playing receiver may have been the only thing Whatley didn't do in high school a lot of, because he also played defense and was part of the kicking game.
Doing whatever the team needs just vibes with Whatley, who redshirted in 2021, earned Freshman All-America recognition in 2022 and has gotten off to a good start this season with 211 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 13 catches for the Mocs (2-1, 1-0 Southern Conference), who face Samford (1-2, 0-1) at 3 p.m. Eastern on Saturday at Seibert Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama.
Sometimes doing whatever the team needs means throwing his body into a defender 100 pounds heavier than him; sometimes it means going across the middle to make a difficult catch while knowing there will soon be contact from a defender. Paired with a quickness that makes him hard to cover inside, the toughness to handle such situations makes him a perfect fit for the position.
"Sometimes receivers don't like going over the middle, but he does not care, he does not have his head on a swivel," junior quarterback Chase Artopoeus said. "It's really cool to see, he'll go attack the ball anywhere on the field."
Whatley, known as "Nu-Nu" — because when he was a baby, his older brother Zabrion ("ZJ") couldn't pronounce his original nickname at birth, "Snoop-Snoop" — became versatile at least in part to make sure he wasn't overlooked.
"I've always been little, so sometimes you've got to do more," Whatley said. "You don't feel little. I feel like everybody thinks because you're little you can't do something that a bigger person can, but that's the part where you've got to have heart, you've got to go be a dawg, and most people won't do that."
Whatley has the unique distinction of being part of a position group that's both one of the youngest (no seniors) on this year's UTC roster while also being one of the most experienced, because he, junior Jamoi Mayes and sophomore Sam Phillips comprised the starting trio of receivers last season as well. After going through its collective highs and lows a year ago, the group seems to have matured from weathering the storm. Whatley himself has grown from having to learn a position, which is part of the reason he said it's been a "fun" start to the year.
After frustrating finishes to the past two seasons kept the Mocs out of the playoffs, this year's team has emphasized a week-to-week focus to avoid looking ahead. With continued growth from players such as Whatley, whose demeanor also makes a difference, the potential that defined this team from the beginning of preseason practices can start being realized.
"We're still working and we're still coming together as a team, so we've got to meet certain goals," Whatley said. "I feel like everybody's connected and everybody's starting to get on the same page. We've worked hard together and everybody plays a role, so I feel like if everybody does a certain role, we'll be straight throughout the whole season, in the playoffs and whatever."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org.