Witherspoon Handles Higher Learning
Witherspoon Handles Higher Learning
Monday, August 6, 2007
By Nick Wagoner
The education of Will Witherspoon has gone far beyond that of a normal professional football player. After signing in St. Louis before last season, Witherspoon was saddled with the task of learning a new position (middle linebacker) and a new defense (Jim Haslett’s).
With all of that on his plate, it would seem that Witherspoon had enough to do without worrying about bettering himself off the field. But Witherspoon decided that instead of lightening his load in the offseason, he would increase it.
On Aug. 11, Witherspoon will get a Family and Consumer Science degree from the University of Georgia with an emphasis in housing and urban development. For Witherspoon, the diploma will serve as validation for years and years of work and, more important, a promise kept.
“For me, especially having kids, it’s one of those things you can’t look back and say, ‘Well you better go to college,’” Witherspoon said. “And they look at you like you left and you didn’t finish. That was a big thing for me. I think it’s just important. That’s one of those things, you make a promise to your parents and you go finish regardless. I am not focusing on football alone.”
Regardless of the amount of focus Witherspoon has placed on football, it’s pretty clear his attention to it has paid off. In Witherspoon’s first year with the Rams, he took to his new position rapidly.
By the end of the year, he led the team in tackles with 136 stops, adding three sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, 14 quarterback pressures and nine passes defended. In addition, Witherspoon made a number of game saving plays at the beginning of the season that helped spur a 4-1 start.
All the while, Witherspoon was still attempting to learn his new position and become a leader from his spot on the field. Witherspoon was a bit banged up at the end of the year which slowed his production, but he was noticeably more comfortable by the time the season ended.
Still, with the Rams falling short of the playoffs, Witherspoon wanted to put his offseason time to good use. In addition to continuing his learning process of Haslett’s defense and his new position, Witherspoon wanted to finally earn his degree.
When Witherspoon arrived at Georgia as a freshman, he set out to get his degree in agricultural engineering. After four years with the Bulldogs, it was clear Witherspoon’s future was in football.
Along the way, though, Witherspoon vowed to return to school and get his degree. Unfortunately, it was going to be nearly impossible to complete his degree in his current major because the courses he needed weren’t offered at a time when he could attend school. Additionally, he had to find a way to transfer as many of the credits as he possibly could.
Witherspoon decided he wanted to be able to use his wealth and standing to give something back so he opted to look into urban planning and development. Of course, he lost about 40 already earned credit hours, leaving him with a full course load upon his return to Athens.
So Witherspoon returned to Georgia in January, living in a condo near campus so he could ride his bike to class every day and taking classes like a normal college kid.
“It’s funny going back and trying to get back in that mode,” Witherspoon said. “You spend so long going to class and going to work and playing ball you get in that mode. Then you have that time span in between. I went back last offseason and this offseason and it was like, ‘Oh my God.’”
Formerly the big man on campus as a player, Witherspoon had to adjust to being one of the few “graybeards” in his classes. In one of his economics classes, his teacher knew him previously and asked him to stand in front of the class and talk about the real world.
“It was one of those teachers I have known forever and she was like, ‘I want you to explain to these people what the real world is really like,’” Witherspoon said. “I think we had two other people in my class that were older.”
But nobody was more recognizable than Witherspoon and it’s doubtful any had signed a multi-million dollar contract about a year before.
From day to day, Witherspoon did his best to fit in like a college kid again, hanging out and working out with members of the football team. He didn’t shirk his football responsibilities and took seven classes in the offseason.
With training camp in full swing and his daughter Maya’s first birthday upcoming, Witherspoon won’t be able to attend his graduation. Instead, Witherspoon will be continuing his middle linebacker education in St. Louis.
“The second year is a big difference for any position, but for a guy who is playing in the middle and getting all those reads, who has been playing a lot of ‘WIL’ linebacker most of his life, there is a comfort level or a learning curve,” coach Scott Linehan said. “He is much more comfortable. Now, he is a ‘Mike’ linebacker, where before he was a guy who was a ‘WIL’ playing the ‘Mike’ and is learning it on the run. It is a great way to utilize what he does best, which is run sideline to sideline. Now he is doing the little things and the mental things that he needs to do as a middle backer.”
While Witherspoon was away, a few things changed in St. Louis. The team added two key pieces to the defensive line in the form of tackle Adam Carriker and end James Hall. In the second year of Haslett’s charge, Witherspoon is expecting great things from a unit he believes underachieved in 2006.
“Last year, we come in and I don’t even know how many new starters we had just on the defense and you have guys speaking 12 different languages, coming from five or six different teams,” Witherspoon said. “That is a big change and everybody is trying to get on the same page. Old habits die hard in certain situations so sometimes we weren’t all on the same page and really I think the latter part of the season is when we started getting cohesive with that. From that standpoint, we are all on the same page, we all have a good understanding of what everyone’s going to say and how the defense works and putting that all together.”
As for his personal development, Witherspoon says a lot of playing middle linebacker comes down to doing all of the little things right. The pre-snap reads, the alignments of his teammates and general leadership are all areas where Witherspoon wanted to make himself more comfortable.
For a guy who played weak side linebacker for the majority of his career, Witherspoon seems to be picking it up quickly. And now, he says he is ready to have an even better 2007.
“I’m definitely a lot more comfortable,” Witherspoon said. “I understand the defense; I have a good feel about what’s going on out there. There’s still some thing you have to clean up here and there. But it’s just really getting a good grasp of things. But really for myself and the entire defense, I think we are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were.”
Armed with his college degree and focusing solely on football, Witherspoon is ready to prove it.
Re: Witherspoon Handles Higher Learning
Congrats to spoon for finishing his degree during the offseason.