Whittaker embraces superhero persona

Austin Laymance

It doesn’t take long to figure out who Fozzy Whittaker’s favorite super hero is.

The red, white and blue shield that hangs above his bed gives it away. It’s Captain America.

Whittaker started collecting the Marvel character’s memorabilia when he arrived at Texas in 2007; the same time he began embracing the super hero’s mentality.

“It kind of just took over, Whittaker said. “I used to play one of the video games and I always played with Captain America because growing up that’s who I liked, but I never really embraced it.

“I did a little research on him and read who he was. The type of patriotism he shows, the kind of character he is. He’s somebody that I wanted to embody.”

Whittaker’s taken all that Captain America stands for to heart and emerged as the Longhorns’ team leader this season.

The senior tailback leads UT with seven touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving and two on special teams) and is No. 1 in the nation in kick return average (46.5 yards). The do-it-all running back has taken the Texas offense upon his shoulders in his final year as a Longhorn.

“He really has been Captain America,” said senior tight end Blaine Irby. “He’s been unbelievable this season. He’s a great leader and I definitely see that Captain America [mentality] kind of following him.

“It’s great because you think of Fozzy, and you just think of a running back. And then this year you see him returning kicks in the two biggest games we’ve had and you see him in the quarterback spot playing the wildcat. Fozzy can do it all.”

It’s hard to imagine where UT would be without him.

“He’s saving the team in some aspects with his play in the kickoff game and on offense,” said senior linebacker Keenan Robinson. “He’s definitely shown up big all season for us.”

Like any great super hero, Whittaker has a budding sidekick. He’s taken freshman tailback Malcolm Brown under
his wing.

“He’s a real great mentor,” said Brown, who leads the team with 516 rushing yards. “One of the coolest guys I’ve met in my life.”

Brown said Whittaker’s willingness to share his wisdom and advice caught him off-guard. After all, the rookie wasn’t expecting the veteran to take too kindly to the Longhorns’ newest stud in the backfield.

But Captain America is not selfish, so neither is Fozzy. Actually, the Houston native is about as welcoming as it gets.

“He’s one of the funniest guys on the team,” Brown said. “You can’t really be around him and not laugh. Even when you’re having some problems, go hang with Fozzy for a little bit and he’ll cheer you up real quick.”

Whittaker, though, didn’t always consider Captain America his favorite super hero.

“I always liked The Flash just because people said I was fast,” he said. “As I got older, I faded away from The Flash and gravitated towards Captain America.”

Now, his memorabilia assortment is too large for him to put a number on. Whittaker’s collection includes: puzzles, tee shirts, pins, action figures, posters, the iconic shield and, of course, his signature Captain America backpack.

Even his twitter handle, @CaptnAmerica2, pays homage to the super hero.

“I always see him wearing the hat and the shirts and he has the backpack on him everywhere,” Brown said. “I’ve seen him bring his shield before. That’s pretty cool, pretty funny.”

But Whittaker’s success this season has a lot to do with staying healthy. The oft-injured back has missed 10 games over the last three years, mainly with knee issues, but is now in the best shape of his career.

Major Applewhite, Whittaker’s position coach, said the senior’s experience with injuries have actually helped Whittaker remain healthy this season.

“Being around the program a long time, he understands how to take care of his body better,” Applewhite said. “He’s learned the ropes. In terms of, ‘Okay, I can get this treatment now. I can go do this with flexibility. I can go do this in the weight room.’”

That knowledge stems from the strong relationship Whittaker forged with Bennie Wylie, the strength and conditioning coach. The two worked tirelessly in the offseason to get Whittaker into prime shape.

“I think he’s faster,” Applewhite said. “Probably a step faster.”

Yes, Captain America would be proud.