OU's Whaley makes his mark after rising through the ranks
Out of the blinding limelight that surrounds Oklahoma football, junior running back Dominique Whaley dared to appear from the depths of an already-talented depth chart.
His ability to accelerate down the sideline and quickly hit gaps has provoked thoughts of OU Heisman winners Steve Owens and Billy Sims.
Whaley began the season as the second-best running back on OU’s depth chart, and he finished with four touchdowns and 131 yards rushing on 18 carries in a 47-14 shellacking of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on Sept. 3.
But what no one understood, what no one could get a handle on, was that all of that production on the ground came from a football player who is not on scholarship — a walk-on. And then there were questions.
Who is Dominique Whaley? Where has he come from? Why hadn’t anyone heard of him until now?
There’s an answer to all three of those questions, and the story starts in Ansbach, Germany.
Making waves in Germany
Army brats move wherever the U.S. military demands, and Whaley’s parents were no exception. Whaley lived in five states — Georgia, Missouri, Texas, Florida and Oklahoma — and two continents before his 21st birthday.
In fall 2004, Ansbach Middle High School football coach Marcus George was introduced to Whaley at U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach.
Ansbach High had a reputation for winning football games in Europe, even against larger-populated schools. But it didn’t take long for George to recognize Whaley’s talent and break into the Cougars’ starting lineup.
Whaley was one of the strongest and most gifted football players he has coached, George said via email.
“At 5’10”, 175, he was benching close to 300 (pounds) as a sophomore, so power was not an issue,” George said.
From 2004 to 2005, Whaley was a part of Ansbach’s 31-game winning streak. George remembered the day he knew Whaley was something special.
“On one play — first game, first quarter — he broke his thumb, he picked up a fumbled punt — he was back to receive the punt with another player — ran over two players and outran the entire team down the sideline for a 70-yard touchdown,” George said. “It was only when he scored that he realized his thumb was badly broken.”
But people had started to notice Whaley before that play.
“In his sophomore year, before he broke his thumb, we scrimmaged a much larger school,” George said. “He broke several runs for big yardage. After the scrimmage the opposing coach asked where we had found such a great back. He took the game over.”
George has coached Ansbach’s football team for 10 years. Under his guidance, the Cougars rarely lose football games.
“In a seven-year span, 2002-2008, we lost only two games,” George said. “Both of those occurred the year [Whaley] got hurt. With him, nobody would have been close.”
Whaley has become a Cougar to emulate for George’s teams and has been with them in spirit since his freshman year at Ansbach.
“[Whaley’s photo] has been on our hall of fame board since 2004. He was a good person and a great athlete. We are proud,” George said.
Back to the U.S.
Whaley came to Lawton MacArthur High School during his junior year in 2006 and explained to coach Brett Manning he wanted to play football. It did not take long for Whaley to prove to Manning he could not only play — he could start.
“It took him a few weeks to learn our system, how we do things,” Manning said. “But as he was getting time to play, he became a huge contributor for us.”
Whaley played slot receiver for MacArthur and was a part of the 2006 team that fell one win shy of the class 5A state championship against Carl Albert High School. Manning said Whaley was a big part of the team’s playoff run and played a key role in their come-from-behind win against Ada High School in the quarterfinals.
As a senior, Whaley played on both sides of the ball, starting at slot receiver and defensive back.
Manning said once he heard Whaley would probably get touches at running back against Tulsa in OU’s opener, he hoped his former player would have a big game.
“Talking with coach (Cale) Gundy in the spring and summer — he recruits our area and also happens to be the running back coach — he was telling us ‘[Whaley] might start for us,’ and he was telling us how good he was doing with the offensive line that they have. And with the tradition they have, I felt confident that if given a chance, [Whaley] could have a great game.”
Many have asked when Stoops will give Whaley an athletic scholarship, and Manning said he hopes it comes soon.
“I know he’s working hard and struggling to make ends meet,” he said. “I sure hope they have something to give him. He’s a great kid — very humble, very hard working and a great athlete.”
Whaley finished his high school career as a selection at defensive back to play in the 2008 Oklahoma Coaches Association All-State Game but didn’t get any offers to play football on scholarship. So he did what most athletes who love the game do upon enrolling in college.
He walked on.
Whaley graduated from Lawton Mac in 2008 and later enrolled at Langston University in Guthrie. Some were surprised to see him at the NAIA school, especially then-offensive line coach and current interim coach Mickey Joseph.
Joseph was the starting quarterback at Nebraska in 1990. He led the Cornhuskers to a 9-3 record and a 1991 Orange Bowl berth under Tom Osborne.
He said he remembered Whaley showing up to practice in 2008.
“I came in ’08, and he got here when I got here,” Joseph said. “I don’t think anybody recruited him. He just showed up here.”
Joseph said Whaley was on an academic scholarship while at Langston with above-average ACT scores. He said he was a good running back for the Lions, but emphasized the importance of an exceptional offensive line.
“You can have the best backs, but if those boys up front are garbage then that run game is gonna be garbage,” Joseph said. “I think running backs are dime a dozen. It goes back to who’s blocking for those running backs. I’m not on OU’s staff, but I can say Dominique was a good kid who retained what we taught him.”
Senior running back Carlos Ross was No. 1 on the depth chart during Whaley’s only season at Langston. Ross is still Langston’s starting running back.
Ross said he had a good relationship with Whaley.
“We were good friends,” Ross said. “We had each other’s backs.”
Ross, nicknamed The Boss, rushed for 714 yards on 145 attempts with 26 receptions for 252 yards and eight total touchdowns in 2008. He said Whaley pushed him at practice and during games.
“He’s one smart player,” Ross said. “He’s a hard worker in the weight room and on the field.”
Though he was unhappy to see him leave, Ross said he was happy when he heard Whaley was walking on at OU.
“I was hoping he would do good because I knew he was a good football player,” Ross said. “I figured it would be good for [OU].”
Coming to OU
Whaley came to the Sooner football team in 2009 and was forced to sit out the 2010 season because of NCAA transfer regulations. But he slowly made his way up the depth chart by demonstrating his dynamic abilities at running back during the 2010 and 2011 spring games.
His teammates took notice of his demeanor and skill as a football player, despite sitting out 2009.
“If Dom would have been able to play last year, he would have been able to contribute,” sophomore wide receiver Kenny Stills said. “Dom is a guy who brings so much intensity to the practice field. He’s really quiet, but you know he’s there working his hardest.”
Now a father of two and the fiancé of Monique Atkinson, Whaley may have finally found the team and school that is right for him. He has proven he can play a large role for the national contender.
Stoops said scholarships are not awarded to players until after the season, and the coach showed he rewards hard work by giving walk-ons Trent Ratterree and James Winchester scholarships prior to this year.
Whaley said he hopes a full scholarship awaits him after the season. Until then, he said he will keep working hard and doing what he does best: play football.