Whitley finds groove with Lakeland

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, October 21, 2015

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — Being labeled a “running quarterback” and standing on the sideline while the starting Lakeland Muskie quarterback threw multiple interceptions in a game last season forced Michael Whitley to contemplate if it was all worth it.

“I almost walked off of the field in that game,” Whitley said. “I felt like I was being treated unfair, looked at by my head coach as just a running quarterback. It got to the point where practice was miserable.”

The frustration reached a fever pitch for Whitley. Teammates urged him to transfer, but Whitley was determined he would stick it out after choosing to attend Lakeland College in Wisconsin. Fresh off of a state championship win with the Trinity Saints in 2013, the Vidalia native was recruited by Colin Bruton, who was the defensive coordinator for the Muskies at the time.

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Bruton became the new head coach after a 6-4 2014 season, and Whitley got his opportunity in the spring.

“Because the other quarterback decided not to play this year, I got every single rep in spring ball,” Whitley said. “I worked with our new quarterback coach (Eric Treske), and he took me up five levels. He’s amazing.”

Whitley learned the new offense, which is a traditional spread that gives Whitley the option to pass on every play. He gained confidence week after week, and two weeks ago, after beating Concordia University Wisconsin 41-0, Whitley earned his first Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference Offensive Player of the Week Award. Whitley completed 75 percent of his passes for 206 yards and threw four touchdowns in the win. Not bad for a “running quarterback.”

“I threw 40 touchdowns my senior year of high school, so I knew I could throw the ball a little bit,” Whitley said.

Whitley was just finding his groove, though. The ensuing week, Whitley totaled career highs and it only took him three quarters to do so. In a 61-35 win against Trine University (Indiana), Whitley completed 28 of 41 passes for 438 yards, six passing touchdowns and rushed for 62 yards and two touchdowns. The eight total touchdowns gave him the NACC Offensive Player of the Week Award for the second straight week.

“To be honest, after that game, I didn’t know I had eight touchdowns,” Whitley said. “I was just looking forward to the next play.”

Through six games, Whitley has 1,813 passing yards, 262 rushing yards and 25 total touchdowns.

As Whitley thought back to the day he almost walked out on his team, it really put into perspective what a difference a year has made.

“I’m so glad I stuck it out,” he said.