Whaley transitions from backfield to defensive line

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Once a highly-touted running back coming out of high school, Chris Whaley earned a stop atop the Longhorns depth chart as a defensive tackle heading into Texas' season opener against Wyoming this weekend.

Photo Credit: Tamir Kalifa | Daily Texan Staff

Chris Whaley is still taking on double teams, but now he does it without the ball in his hands.

When Whaley rumbled on to the 40 Acres as a freshman in 2009 he was a highly-touted running back and considered one of the most exotic talents in the country. He featured the 4.55 speed coveted by coaches and players alike, but complemented it with a linebacker’s frame at 6-foot-3, 233 pounds.

However, as it turns out, his build was best fit for a defensive tackle.

Running back to defensive tackle is a pretty sizable jump, but in 2010 Whaley, with the support of the coaching staff, made the switch after he got buried on the depth chart by a deep stable of half backs.

The move paid off, too. After three years of hard work, long lifting sessions and more lessons in technique than he can count, Whaley is the now the Longhorns’ starting nose tackle. It’s a thought that’s still pretty surreal to him.

“I probably would have told you that wouldn’t have happened,” Whaley said. “I had my mind set on playing running back, never thought that I would change and play defense.”

He may never have anticipated his football career taking such a big twist, but it turns out his biggest weakness in the backfield, his tendency to put on weight, became a strength as he made the switch.

Whaley has added 60 pounds to his frame over the last three years and is more than capable of handling the punishment a defensive lineman endures on a game-to-game basis.

“It was actually easy {adding weight],” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why I didn’t really play running back, I gained too much weight. I got too big.”

He may have become too large to handle the ball, but he’s still slightly undersized in the land of defensive linemen. He does have one advantage over the giants on the offensive line: speed.

Despite his added bulk Whaley has still retained the skills that made him a high school All-American at running back. He’s explosive, quick and elusive — attributes that enable him to blow by or through opposing linemen. These gifts separate him from the traditional three-technique tackles that normally occupy the middle of a 4-3 defense.

Whaley’s athleticism gives the Texas coaching staff a unique weapon to employ.

“[Defensive tackles] Coach [Bo] Davis always tells me that I have a gift and I need to use it and to never hold it back,” Whaley said.

However, it was Whaley’s personality and work ethic which secured his spot as a starter. Whaley was a monster in the weight room and on the field. He attacked every rep willing himself to succeed. It’s an attitude his teammates are drawn to.

“When you see Chris, he always has a smile on his face,” running back Joe Bergeron said. “He’s always laughing, he’s always joking. On the field, he’s serious...he just works. You see him after a play, he’s tired but he goes full speed the next play. I admire that about him.”

Whaley gives maximum effort in every aspect of his life. On the field, in the weight room and in the classroom – Whaley was a member of UT’s Athletics Director’s Honor Roll in spring of 2012. Couple that with his natural abilities and Whaley is just a heck of a person and player.

He may not have the ball in his hands anymore, but Whaley has found a way to leave his stamp on this team. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz sums up Whaley’s skill-set the best.

“Chris Whaley is a hard worker, a great guy, and he’s also been blessed with great athleticism and the ability to make plays,” Diaz said. “That’s sort of the holy trinity right there.”