Pearland’s Fozzy Whittaker is lending while mending
As a football player at Pearland High School, Fozzy Whittaker almost always had a leg up on the competition.
Right now, however, the resilient Whittaker finds himself a leg down.
A member of the Carolina Panthers football team the past five years, Whittaker is rehabilitating a recent knee injury which will have him on injured reserve for the entirety of the 2018 National Football League season.
However, Whittaker wasn’t short on mobility Saturday in conducting the fourth annual Fozzy Whittaker Camp and Showcase at Pearland Stadium.
For those participating in the event, a better bargain couldn’t be found - it was free.
“This is always special to me because I love giving back to the community where I grew up,” Whittaker said. “This is a city which poured so much into me.
“I’m at the point where I’m able to offer a free camp. To get my knowledge out there, have family, friends and old teammates to coach here with me…it’s just a blessing.”
Whittaker, who led Pearland to the state semifinals in 2006, went on to play at the University of Texas, where he showed flashes of brilliances in the backfield while excelling on special teams.
He sped through his schooling at UT, earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a short amount of time.
In 2012, Whittaker was signed to the Arizona Cardinals’ practice squad before being released in March 2013. He spent parts of the 2013 season with San Diego and Cleveland before finding permanence with Carolina from 2014 to 2017.
Contributions as a starter, reserve and special teams player increased his value. His perseverance and versatility made Whittaker a valuable member of the Panthers, who reached Super Bowl 50 in 2016.
In that game against Denver, Whittaker carried four times for 26 yards and had one reception for 14 yards.
In March 2017, Whittaker signed a two-year contract extension which expires in 2018.
“At the end of this year, I’ll be a free agent,” Whittaker said. “I’ll look to see if Carolina may want to sign me, and if not, then I’ll see what another team has to offer me to continue my career.”
Whittaker’s most recent setback occurred May 10, when he sustained his season-ending injury in a non-contact drill.
“We were actually just going through passing routes before OTA’s (organized team activities),” Whittaker said. “I was just running a hitch route about three-quarters speed, and I turned and felt a little pop in my knee.
“I felt real unstable, there was pain, and I ended up limping off the field.
“It didn’t feel like the first time (2011 with UT) when I tore my ACL so I was thinking that maybe I spared it this time. But as the day went on and I went to get my MRI, I feared it was my ACL.”
Indeed, it was a tear, but Whittaker said he is quickly healing.
“I’m feeling a lot better now,” he said. “I’m seven weeks out and moving around pretty good. It’s been way better than my first experience.”
That initial knee injury happened in November 2011.
“It was the same knee, and I tore it my senior year against Missouri,” Whittaker said. “I planted a funny way on Missouri’s old turf, and my knee just buckled under me.
“I did major knee damage - the ACL, MCL, lateral meniscus and a medial microfracture - all in one game.
“Everything happens for a reason. I’m still grateful God put me in a position to be able to play in the National Football League and to play at a high level.”
Whittaker says whether it’s Carolina or not, he’ll have a plan in 2019. He said the stops in Arizona, San Diego and Cleveland have provided him with a much-appreciated perspective.
“Carolina’s home for me, and I really love it there,” he said. “Every team has a different feel, and I’ve enjoyed everywhere I’ve been. You have to learn everything about each team from the owners to the players to the coaches.
“Every team I’ve been a part of I’ve just been grateful because, at the end of the day, I’m really not supposed to be where I am. I’m blessed to have the opportunity I have now.
“I’m still working toward winning a Super Bowl, and I’m looking forward to the rest of my career.”
Whittaker is absolutely convinced he will return to peak form.
“Before the season finishes, I’ll be doing drills at 100 percent. I’m using this offseason to make a 100 percent recovery,” he said. “Wherever they (Carolina) need me to provide help, I’m there.
“I love playing special teams, and that’s where I feel I can really help a team. I go out there to give 100 percent every single time.
“When February rolls around and free agency hits - if I don’t sign with Carolina or they don’t want me - I should be 100 percent for whoever wants to see me.”
Whittaker operates Fozzy’s Future Heroes, a 501 (c) 3 organization which supports the development of youth in athletics and education. Whittaker was scheduled to conduct another camp on Sunday with former UT standout Ricky Williams at Del Valle High School.
Fozzy’s wife, Jasmine, and his mother, Gloria Whittaker Ford, help operate the organization.
“Fozzy has one the best attitudes and the most faith of anyone I’ve ever met,” Jasmine said, “which is probably the main reason why I married him.
“He’s positive about coming back to play, and he’s been rehabbing every day. We’ve dealt with it before in 2011 and 2012. It’s nothing new. He’ll be all right.”
Jasmine said she gets as much enjoyment from the camps as anyone.
“Me and Fozzy’s mom help coordinate this,” Jasmine said, “and Fozzy wants to give back to the community. My background is in education, so I love kids and seeing them work while having fun.
“It’s amazing watching them. They all have a great time.”