Former basketball standout and new Western Michigan tight end Flenard Whitfield is hard at work this spring getting up to speed within head coach Bill Cubit's complex offense. BroncoBlitz.com caught up with Whitfield after Saturday's spring practice.
This isn't Whitfield's first go on the football field, as he was a standout at Martin Luther King High School in Detroit. After he had committed to WMU to play basketball, schools came to him about playing on the gridiron instead.
"It was just one of those things where I was already set, committed to Western, and I wasn't trying to overturn that," Whitfield said of his football recruitment. "I just wanted to get through the basketball career first and see what the football field brings after that."
While the 6-foot-7, 238 pound senior has been considering this move for quite some time, the contact with coaches did not come until very recently, and things have moved ahead very quickly since.
"I came to them, and asked permission from Coach Cubit to try out for the team during spring ball. I heard back from him, which was a blessing for me, and they gave me a number, threw me a helmet, and said 'Let's go'," Whitfield said.
The athleticism is certainly there for Whitfield, who was capable of taking over basketball games with his physical and high-flying style. This transition, however, will not come without its difficulties.
Whitfield not only has to balance classes with learning the playbook and refining his football skills, but he has class conflicts with spring practice that may slow his progress somewhat. While acknowledging these difficulties, Whitfield insists that he is willing to work as hard as needed to overcome them and speaks with optimism.
"It's just a lot of work right now, but if I'm going to be out here I have to do it, I can't complain about it," he said. "It's one of those things I've got to make sacrifices for, especially if I'm trying to make a future out of this afterwards. I've only got one year, so everything right now is just football, football, football and school."
WMU basketball coach Steve Hawkins coached Whitfield for four years, and is supportive of the decision by his former power forward, believing he has the athletic tools to make the transition work, and that it could be good for his future.
"I get phone calls from NFL scouts all the time now, asking if there's anybody in your league or your program that we should take a look at," Hawkins said. "When I talked to Flen, I told him that just because he's playing basketball doesn't mean he's saying no to football."
At the same time, Hawkins indicated that Whitfield may have had other plans until recently.
"His whole thought going into the year was still about going overseas in basketball," Hawkins said. "But I think as it got closer and closer, the thought of moving that far away from home, I don't think was as attractive to him."
If things were to go well enough for Whitfield to draw interest from NFL scouts, it wouldn't be the first time a basketball player turned pro in football from Western Michigan. Joe Reitz played four years for coach Hawkins before attending WMU's football Pro Day and impressing scouts. He now plays offensive tackle for the Indianapolis Colts.
Whitfield is well aware of Reitz's story, and plans to draw from his experience as he continues with football.
"I haven't talked to Joe, I think he's kind of busy right now," Whitfield said. "I'm pretty sure he'll get a hold of me. Word's kind of still getting out about me being out here, so once word gets out completely, I'm going to hear from a few guys."
Spring practice is a time of rapid learning for Whitfield, who has not yet started working in situational scrimmages but instead is trying to get caught up in fundamental drills.
"Right now its fundamentals of what we do around here. I'm doing a lot of individual drill work, because my class conflict is interfering with practice," Whitfield said.
Spring practice continues Tuesday, and the first scrimmage will take place this Saturday. BroncoBlitz will continue to provide coverage of all the proceedings as Whitfield and others progress toward the 2012 season.
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