LAFAYETTE, Ala. — JaTarvious “Boobie” Whitlow, the last pickup in Auburn football’s 2017 signing class, has a habit of making things disappear.
That includes his jersey number.
“I always told him to just make No. 7 disappear,” his high school coach James Lucas told SEC Country. “I said, ‘You’ll be able to take over the game. I’ll move you from quarterback, and they won’t even know you moved.'”
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With that mindset, the 3-star athlete from nearby LaFayette, Ala., put together two magical seasons as one of the state’s most prolific quarterbacks.
Whitlow could make leads disappear, pushing the LaFayette Bulldogs to double-digit comebacks against local rivals that had long dominated them. He could turn a little bit of daylight into long touchdown runs — he had 30 of those as a senior.
No matter where he lined up on the field, Whitlow would find a way to quickly reappear in the end zone. Not bad for a player who didn’t want to move positions in high school.
“When [Lucas] told me about moving to quarterback, I was No. 7 in the state at receiver my 10th grade year,” Whitlow told SEC Country. “He told me to move to quarterback, and I was like, ‘Shoot, I’m No. 7 in the state. I’m trying to get No. 1!’ But it worked out, though. I had two of the best years ever.”
That brings Whitlow 20 miles down the road from LaFayette to Auburn, where he’s enrolled as a true freshman after his surprise signing day commitment in February. Whitlow was originally recruited to play his old position of receiver for the Tigers, but he moved around during summer workouts.
“We really took him as an athlete,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said at SEC Media Days. “He can play a lot of different positions. He’s worked some at running back this summer, but he’s worked some at receiver, too. He does have a skill set. We’ll see, we’ll know more about him once we get through fall camp.”
Whitlow was a last-minute offer from Auburn thanks to first-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, who saw film of Whitlow in a camp and wanted him on offense.
That excited Whitlow, who had a defensive offer from Auburn but wanted to play offense. And he says he knows the kind of system Lindsey will run inside and out.
“When I went down there during spring practice, I was looking at the offense like, ‘This is LaFayette. They’re pretty much running the same exact offense,'” Whitlow said. “A little read option, bubble screen, stuff like that. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I can get with this.'”
‘I’ve never seen a kid do that’
No matter where Auburn decides to play Whitlow, he has scored lots of touchdowns there.
In Lucas’ first season at LaFayette — Whitlow’s sophomore year — the Bulldogs opened the season against nearby Beauregard. LaFayette lost 41-8 to the bigger program, but Whitlow made sure it wouldn’t be a shutout with a play Lucas still talks about.
“I saw him take a screen pass to the house against Beauregard,” Lucas said. “It was unbelievable. Two guys hit him at the line of scrimmage, and he folded up and took it to the house. I told my son, who played at Troy, that I’ve been around a lot of athletes … I’ve never seen a kid do that.”
The Bulldogs only went 1-9 that year, but Lucas knew he could build something special with Whitlow. Later that season against Woodland, he lined up at running back and took a swing pass 70-plus yards for LaFayette’s only touchdown.
“Everybody was hollering about No. 7 being in the backfield or No. 7 being at wide receiver,” Lucas said. “I would take him and move him to slot receiver, H-back, fullback, wherever. That would make the defense unaware of wherever he was.”
Lucas did the same thing in the 2015 season. After a season-opening win, LaFayette traveled to Reeltown, which was ranked No. 8 in the state. The Bulldogs were down by 16 points at halftime, but Whitlow quickly took over from all over the field.
“We put No. 10, Zarrion Heard, at quarterback, and he ran for a touchdown,” Lucas said. “So when we put him back there again, they were looking for him to run the ball. We moved (Whitlow) to H-back and threw a little out route to him, and he took it 92 yards to the house.”
Whitlow looks back at that game as his best performance in a prolific high school career.
“That Reeltown game? My uniform was barely dirty,” Whitlow said with a laugh. “It was so crazy. I moved to running back and ran that read option, took it straight to the house.”
Back at quarterback, Whitlow would throw 2 more touchdown passes in the final 90 seconds of the game. The comeback was complete — a LaFayette team that only won once in 2014 was 2-0 after beating one of the best teams in its area.
That game set the tone for what Whitlow would do for the rest of his career at LaFayette. The Bulldogs made their first playoff appearance since 2011 and only their second in a decade.
Running straight to momma
In 2016, with Whitlow settled at quarterback, LaFayette had an undefeated regular season, won its region championship and averaged 49.3 points per game. Whitlow scored 59 touchdowns by himself.
All those scores came from an approach to carrying the football that Lucas said he’s never seen from any other high school player.
“I’ll tell you where he’ll help Auburn — he can take 5 yards and turn it into 50,” Lucas said. “When a kid is right in his face, he never takes his eyes off the end zone. He has in his mind, ‘I’ve got you beat.’ He never looks at that guy. He’s just got the end zone. I’ve never seen anyone who will never look at the guy. He’ll be going backwards and still know he’s got this guy beat. He’ll make one move and boom, 60 yards.”
— WTVM News Leader 9 (@WTVM) October 24, 2016
Whether it came from scrambling, taking a handoff or catching a pass from a teammate, Whitlow knew exactly what he would do with the ball in his hands every time.
His coach used to tell him to make his jersey number disappear. Whitlow said he would do the same thing to opponents, especially during home games at LaFayette.
He only had his eyes on one person in the back of the end zone.
“My momma used to tell me when I was younger, ‘Boobie, when you get on the field, you run straight to me at the concession stand,'” Whitlow said. “And every time we’d run that way, she’d be down there with her hands held out.
“‘You’ve got to run faster than everybody else. They can’t touch you if you just run straight to me.’ I used to see that every time I got the ball here going that way. I ran straight to my momma.”
— Hudl Highlights (@HudlHighlights) August 24, 2016
The self-professed “momma’s boy” ran toward the LaFayette High concession stand a lot during his career.
Now, no matter which position he gets the chance at first at Auburn, he says he’ll do something similar at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“When we run, we ain’t stopping at the goal line,” Whitlow said. “We sprint to the back of the end zone. Every time I run, I go all the way to the last line. So when you see me run, I’ll run all the way to that scoreboard if I have to.”