The Port Arthur News
NEDERLAND – Part of what makes high school football great is seeing players develop over a career, working hard to earn a spot in the starting lineup and then performing at a high level. For Nederland senior safety Bryce Whaley, that path to self-improvement came through the track team.
“Last spring, he did both baseball and track,” Nederland safeties coach Chris Theriot said. “He spent a lot of time working on his speed, because he knew what role he’d have this fall. He knew it’d help him in multiple sports and has done an incredible job working on and improving on that.”
Defensive backs generally need to be fast, and Whaley always had good speed, but needed to improve on the quick-twitch things that make up most sprints and football plays.
“I have the top end speed, but I needed to get better in those first few steps to get more explosive,” Whaley said. “It definitely helped. I practiced real hard with it and it paid off. It helped me get faster.”
That determination to get better was noticed by his coaches, as Whaley came up on the radar in the spring because of his work ethic.
“He’s a guy that is self-made, self-motivated,” Nederland head coach Larry Neumann said. “In his career, he’s come a long way because of his commitment and determination to get better. That caliber of character that he has goes a long way towards success. It’s not always about 40-yard dash times or how much you can bench press. There are others like him, but he’s the poster child for what his contribution to this team has been.”
In a prep sports world that sees more players moving toward year-round specialization, it’s refreshing and unusual to see someone like Whaley try to take on both baseball and track & field to improve himself.
“In track, it’s not the most glorified sport,” Theriot, who also serves at head track coach, said. “Kids really have to enjoy the sport and I really think it helped him with football this year. Juggling multiple sports and the attitude he needed to get it done, there’s not a doubt that it has impacted his football career.”
But, that work ethic also shows up in his desire to take and use the criticism that coaches hand out during the season.
“It goes towards ‘want to,’” Neumann said. “He knows his limitations and has worked hard to narrow them. He hasn’t always had success. He’s taken harsh criticism, but he’s a guy that has never gone the other direction behind it. The criticism has always seem to stimulate him and not always in a vocal, outward way, but more in an inner determination.”
That inner determination led to Whaley seizing control of a starting role in the fall. While he jumped onto the coaching radar with his determination to get better, he earned a spot in the starting lineup because of his consistency.
“What I saw was a consistency in his performance,” Neumann said. “It wasn’t always at a high level, but it was always consistent. It gradually got better as the season went on. He became savvier for his position as the rest of the secondary did. That let them take more risks and try for bigger plays. He just steadily got better. I don’t remember huge valleys in his performance. He didn’t always have great games or do everything right, but it didn’t discourage him or hurt our football team. He just kept getting better.”
His position as one of the outside safeties in Nederland’s 4-2-5 scheme isn’t easy either. Whaley could be asked to be primarily a run supporter one week and then drop back into coverage most of the game the next. Sometimes, that change can happen from play to play, making lining up and knowing what everyone needs to do on each play critical to his success.
“Mainly, it’s about lining up,” Whaley said. “You need to be where you need to be to make plays on both passes and runs. You have to know where you need to be at all times. We three safeties have to do the shifting and all that. We have to know where everyone has to be at all times. It takes a lot of mental capacity, for sure.”
All that improvement has led to good results this season for Whaley. The senior has 32 tackles with one sack, one forced fumble and three pass breakups. His improved quickness has helped with that, but it’s his knowledge of the scheme and what he’s supposed to do that has made a big difference.
“Is he going to win a footrace with (Pearland Dawson standout receiver) Tony Upchurch?” Neumann said. “Probably not, but he’s going to be in position and know where his help is. He’ll know as much about their style and what he has to do as anyone on this team. That’s good enough for Nederland and good enough for me.”
BULLDOG BITES: Tickets for Nederland’s regional matchup with Pearland Dawson at Reliant Stadium went on sale Tuesday at Nederland High School. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students and will be sold at the school through noon on Friday. Tickets will be $13 at the gate. Parking at Reliant will cost $10 per car. Texas High School Coaching Association and District 20-4A and District 24-4A passes will be accepted. … Nederland practiced at Reliant Stadium on Monday, at Lamar University’s Provost-Umphrey Stadium on Tuesday and will return to Lamar on Wednesday. …Nederland’s 11 victories give the Bulldogs 10 or more wins in consecutive seasons. Nederland has only done that two other times in school history. Bum Phillips and Emmett McKenzie combined for five straight 10 win or better seasons from 1953-57. Larry Neumann has done it twice now, winning 11 in three straight seasons from 1999 through 2001. Nederland has now won 10 or more games in a season 14 times in school history. Neumann has been the head coach for six of those 14 seasons, the most of any Bulldog head coach. … Junior running back Kendrick Hopkins needs 76 yards to top 2,000 for his career. Quarterback Carson Raines needs just 169 yards passing to top 4,000 for his career. … Receiver Seth Barrow can join teammate Michael Shaw in some elite company with one catch against Dawson. Barrow is one away from catching 50 for his Nederland career. Since 2004, only six players have caught that many, including two four-year players in Micah Mosley and Brent Salenga.