HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — The calls from Kentucky never stopped coming.
Chris Whittaker, a 3-star defensive end prospect from Hollywood, Fla., committed to Central Florida last September, but Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran was persistent. The Wildcats stayed on Whittaker while other schools dropped from the race after his commitment.
“Even when I was committed to UCF, Coach Gran was still hitting my phone,” Whittaker told SEC Country on a visit to his high school as part of our Next Generation series. “He was still seeing how I was doing. He was the one that really gave me an open mind to Kentucky. Coach Gran, he’s just been there all the way.”
Whittaker said the calls from Gran came almost every day, after almost every practice.
An official visit to Kentucky was set up in December — three months after he committed to UCF. And while Gran kept Kentucky in the race, Whittaker’s mom, Jewell McDonald, clinched the deal for the Cats.
“I fell in love with UK immediately,” McDonald said. “It was the way Coach Gran followed up even though I had never met him in person. He would call every so often and then we started meeting at the school. He told me what Kentucky had to offer.”
McDonald said she was “disappointed” with UCF’s staff. Gran, along with Georgia Tech coaches, were in constant contact with her, but she said UCF’s coaches failed to reach out. McDonald took the December trip to Kentucky with her son.
Whittaker flipped his commitment two days later. The call to UCF wasn’t easy.
“It was almost like breaking up with a girlfriend after like two years,” Whittaker said. “It was one of the hardest things. But, it’s all business and that’s how they seen it. Everything just falls into place.”
Whittaker said no one played a bigger part in his decision than his mom. His commitment to Central Florida would keep him close to home, but McDonald said distance didn’t matter once she came to Kentucky.
“Within 3 hours of getting there, she was like, ‘Chris, this might be the place.’ After her saying that I was like yeah, this could be it,” Whittaker said. “That’s basically what influenced me.”
Whittaker, not one of Kentucky’s heralded 2017 signees, isn’t expected to make an early impact with the Wildcats. He’s been told that he’ll be redshirted, according to McDonald.
The 6-foot-4 and 246-pound freshman was ranked the 65th weak-side defensive end in the class, according to 247Sports, but he’ll follow in the Denzil Ware mold. Ware, who hosted Whittaker on his visit, was listed as the first team outside linebacker/defensive end on the preseason depth chart.
A selling point for Whittaker was Kentucky’s 3-4 defensive scheme. He said he’ll be able to show his versatility as an outside pass rusher.
“He has a grown man’s body,” Chaminade-Madonna coach Dameon Jones said. “Very aggressive.”
Whittaker and wide receiver Josh Ali both made the move from Chaminade-Madonna Prep in South Florida to Kentucky. Four more could follow. The Cats have three Chaminade-Madonna commits in their 2018 class plus a commit from Keontra Smith, a top-100 prospect in the 2019 class.
While Whittaker isn’t likely to see the field this season, he’s already looking ahead.
“What my goal is in the next three, four years is make Kentucky known for football,” he said.
More from our Kentucky Next Generation series
- Freshman Josh Ali, son of a former college receiver, is starting his own legacy
- Alex King’s mom has shaped her son’s football career from the beginning
- Kentucky freshman Tyrell Ajian welcoming comparisons to Cats star safety
- Two-sport star Jordan Wright coming to Kentucky with lofty goals
- Sebastien Dolcine wants to be part of the ‘Mark Stoops era’ at Kentucky
- Kentucky football beat out LSU for DB Michael Nesbitt
- Eddie Gran’s persistence flipped DE Chris Whittaker to Kentucky
- Chance to play in the SEC lured Josh Ali to Lexington
- Still new to the game, Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald made an early impression on Kentucky
- Position promise gave Wildcats an edge with JaVonte Richardson
- Tyrell Ajian got the ‘gut feeling’ he needed from Kentucky’s coaches
- Big Ten schools stood out, but Wildcats proved best for LB Alex King
- Gone from a dying city, Kentucky CB Lonnie Johnson finds life in Lexington
- Top Kentucky football signee Lynn Bowden not focused on comparisons