Playing linebacker is in his DNA, but Jason Whittingham still had to put in the work to be a starter for the University of Utah.
The family legacy began with the late Fred Whittingham, Jason’s grandfather, who played eight years in the NFL and coached linebackers for years at the pro and collegiate level. His coaching experience includes both BYU and Utah.
“I guess it all came from Grandpa Fred,” said Cary Whittingham, Fred’s son and Jason’s father. “He had the mentality and the right match of tools for it.”
Cary played linebacker at BYU and coached his son at Timpview. Jason’s uncle, Kyle, is another former BYU linebacker who is now Jason’s head coach at Utah.
“We have a great legacy at linebacker in my family and I don’t want to let them down,” Jason said.
“I love to have the opportunity to play linebacker. I want to make my family proud.”
The former Timpview star is an all-conference candidate and two-year starter for Utah, and he said he feels 100 percent after a knee injury ended his sophomore year early. He still managed 81 tackles (34 solo) and five tackles for loss in 10 games.
“It’s refreshing for me to be back on the field,” Jason Whittingham said. “I was out this spring and I was doing rehab all summer. I feel great.”
Utah is looking to improve on a 5-7 campaign in 2013, which included a 2-6 Pac 12 Conference mark. On the offensive side of the ball, the Utes will count on quarterback Travis Wilson, who played in just nine games due to injuries. The 6-foot-7, 233-pound senior is a dual threat who ran for nine touchdowns and passed for 16 scores last season. Eight returning starters on offense include four linemen and dangerous wide receiver Dres Anderson (53 catches, 1,002 yards, 7 TD’s).
Jason Whittingham said the defense, which returns seven starters, feels the pressure of improving on last year’s performance. The Utes managed just three interceptions (on 443 opponent’s attempts) and only 16 total turnovers caused. Utah ended up minus-9 in turnover margin. The Utes were also outscored 89-74 in the fourth quarter and lost three Pac 12 games by seven points or less.
“Turnovers, that’s something we lacked last year,” Jason Whittingham said. “It’s been hammered into our heads all summer by the coaches. I’m excited to see who can make big plays with turnovers. We also need to finish the fourth quarter better, something we didn’t do last year.”
Safety Brian Blechen is an All-Pac 12 candidate who has started since his freshman season but missed 2013 due to injury. He’s back and if he’s able to regain the form that led the Utes in tackles per game in 2012, the defense could be formidable.
The Utes schedule includes a road trip to Michigan and games at Stanford and UCLA in Pac 12 play.