By Eric Burdick
Director of Athletics Communications
Senior center Harry Whitson arrived at Cal Poly as a walkon in August 2014. Two days later, his father Alan passed away.
"I have a tattoo over my heart with my dad's initials," Whitson said. "Before every game, I pray and I'd like to think of him in a La-Z-Boy sitting back and watching me on Saturdays like he would on Friday nights."
His father's death created a financial strain for Harry, a Redondo Union High School graduate, and the rest of his family.
"Money became difficult for my family," Whitson said. "My father's passing has really defined me and my college experience — the difficulties dealing with his death, and my mother and my brother coming together and becoming even closer together as a family.
"After my first year, Coach (Tim) Walsh blessed me with a tuition scholarship and that really helped out financially," Whitson added. "Being a walk-on is harder because you're doing the same stuff as the scholarship guys for no money and you're paying for it. The situation made me work harder and push myself, not only to help my family financially but to prove to myself and my coaches that I deserve a scholarship."
Whitson is in his fifth and final year as a Mustang. The last three seasons, the 6-4, 298-pound offensive lineman played 30 games at left guard, missing the final four contests of the 2017 campaign due to injury.
Whitson will be snapping the ball this fall as Cal Poly's center, filling the shoes created by the graduation of two-year starter Joey Kuperman.
"The transition kinda came easy because when I first got here in my first year I played center (on the scout team). That was the way I learned our offense from the beginning," said Whitson. "Getting back into it was like a flashback, kind of full circle from my first year to my fifth year. I am excited. The center leads the offensive line and gets everyone on the same page. I am excited to take charge of that role and communicate with everyone."
Whitson has been consulting with Kuperman ever since moving to center during the offseason.
"I watch his film all the time, how he played, his physicality and the intensity he brought to the game," said Whitson. "I try to practice what he does and there are some things I still text him about and ask him what he does on certain plays and why he would do certain things, such as how to efficiently and effectively get to the linebackers and defensive tackles."
Whitson and Matt Fisher, another former Mustang offensive lineman, organized the football team's Bible Study group three years ago.
"We would just get together on the away games, read a couple chapters, talk to each other and it slowly grew into about 15 to 25 people a week meeting on Thursdays in the coaches' office," said Whitson. "It gives me a chance to share my love for Christ and keep me in check, holds me to a higher standard."
Whitson has enjoyed his time with the other offensive linemen on the team, despite the lack of publicity and notoriety.
"We embrace that as o-linemen," said Whitson. "We love the fact we are not always in the spotlight. When we mess up, we're definitely brought up. It holds us to a higher standard because we know that we're the people that lead the charge. We run the ball most of the game. I don't mind it.
"The other guys on the o-line are hard nosed, hard working, the best kind of people and my best friends," Whitson added. "I couldn't ask for anything else in my time in college."
Who is the character of the offensive line?
"Paul Trujillo-Langdon. He has about eight different nicknames, he is always on point with jokes and it's a good time when we're around him," Whitson said of the junior from Lytle Creek, Calif., and a graduate of Carter High School in Rialto.
Whitson has some lofty goals for Cal Poly this season.
"Definitely going to North Dakota State and taking down the No. 1 team," Whitson said prior to the season opener in Fargo, N.D. "Also, to win the Big Sky Conference title and compete for a national championship.
"I also want to enjoy my last year of playing football. I've been playing football since I was 5 years old, so it's been an exciting time, a big part of my life and I am excited."
And one more thing …
"For the first three years I was here, we led the nation in rushing yards per game," Whitson said. "That definitely was a big standard that was set by previous o-linemen and we hope to emulate that again in my fifth and final year."
Whitson feels good about his latest honor — team captain.
"I started as a walk-on here, and now to be a captain. It's been a fun journey. It's been full of ups and downs and challenges, but credit to my family, my teammates and my coaches for pushing me to the highest standard and the highest character that I could be as a person."
Whitson is a history major at Cal Poly.
"Coming out of high school, I didn't want to do anything in business and I couldn't get into engineering," Whitson said. "One of my favorite teachers in high school, Phil Comito, really inspired me in history and taught a different perspective than I had experienced with other teachers.
"So that's what I kind of want to do when I get older, teach high school and coach high school football," he added. "I also would like to coach college football, too."
Whitson and quarterback Khaleel Jenkins represented Cal Poly at the Big Sky Conference Summer Football Kickoff in July at Spokane, Wash.
"It was cool. We got to meet so many different players and get their perspectives because they're so isolated at their own university," Whitson said. "It was interesting to hear their stories from other places about the hardships they go through and the similarities. In the end we're just one big giant family from different cities. I follow some of them on social media."
Though he was a walk-on in his first year of college, Whitson is happy with his choice to attend Cal Poly.
"Part of my dad's job required him to work in Pismo Beach. That was a big reason to come up here, so that I could still be able to spend time with my own family," said Whitson. "Also, Aristotle Thompson was my recruiter and he sold me on this place. The guys on my official visit were easy to communicate with.
"I was a walk-on, so it was a tough decision to either go to a place that didn't give me any money or go to a junior college," Whitson added. "Now that I look back on that decision, I wouldn't change a second in my life. I wouldn't go anywhere else.
"I wouldn't go to a Division I-A school and I wouldn't go to a lower division school to get some money. I love the fact I came here, and some of my best friends are on this team now. The experiences I've had here are just incredible."
Senior Center Harry Whitson: Overcoming the Death of his Father
By Eric Burdick