BELLE VERNON, Pa. — Devin Whitlock is undersized, which has led to him being under-recruited nationally and underrated in WPIAL circles.
“I always feel like the underdog,” exclaimed Whitlock.
However, after playing the underdog role his entire life, the script is starting to flip after the Senior led his team to an undefeated regular season, and a Big Eight Conference championship. He capped off an excellent season with a five-touchdown performance in a 46-14 blowout win against McKeesport, a game in which, once again, Whitlock entered being doubted.
“There was a lot of chatter behind this game,” noted head coach Matt Humbert. “And for some reason, I think some people kind of forgot about us, the hype was all towards McKeesport, which was fine.”
Humbert was pretty confident in his team playing up to the underdog role, probably because his star quarterback consistently thrives at that moment. However, this emphatic win has to put people on notice, as the Belle Vernon Leopards enter the WPIAL playoffs with the one seed and a bye. Now, it is time for Whitlock to thrive as the favorite and give us a strong final season of the Devin Whitlock show.
“I always have the mindset that I am unstoppable,” Whitlock calmly stated of his ability to take the game over. “I always feel confident enough that we’re going to do what we need to do.”
That confidence exuded the first time Whitlock touched the ball in their blowout win over McKeesport. He caught a punt at the 30-yard line and was off to the races for 70 yards and a touchdown.
Whitlock checked off the return touchdown early but then started to show why he is arguably the scariest duel-threat in the WPIAL this year. Whitlock added two touchdowns on the ground, one via a 58-yard magical run before the half that featured a juke, a hurdle, and a burst to the end zone.
Then, he added two touchdowns through the air, both off of extended plays where his combination of arm and leg talent was on display. Whitlock ran left, ran right, juked defenders, and found ways to get the ball out to his receivers who won in the scramble drill. That was partly because all eyes became glued on Whitlock with the ball.
“You cannot get another feeling like this, it is just another feeling out of this world,” Whitlock said of his performance that featured five touchdowns three different ways.
Whitlock’s play is what was out of this world. With his size, his scrambling, his speed, and playmaking, he looked a high school version of Kyler Murray, with the number 1 and all.
However, what made this performance so special was that he did it on special teams, he did it on offense, but his defense was what he took most pride in. Whitlock was shut down as a cornerback in this game and was often on an island alone.
Once again his 5-foot-8 stature came into play as the Tigers tried him with receivers ranging from 6′-6’4″. None of that mattered. Whitlock gave up a couple of catches, but in most cases was on top of the route and in a better position to catch the football than the receiver. He impressively broke up passes at the catch point, and at two distinct points made big-time open-field tackles that shut down big runs. A splashy offensive player was downright gritty on defense.
“Cornerback is a special position,” Whitlock said with pride of his play. “You know, you are one on one out there, that is something that my teammate Logan Cunnigham and I work on every day and the results are showing.”
Whitlock is a leader on a defense that held opponents to 10 points per game this season. Even seven points against McKeesport came in garbage time and off of a turnover.
“That is just who they are, they are gritty and blue-collar,” Humbert added of his defense.
The stakes are rising and Devin Whitlock and the Belle Vernon Leopards keep rising up to the occasion. Whitlock now enters rare territory in his life as the favorite and the player that is expected to dominate. If Whitlock can take over the WPIAL playoffs the way that he did the regular season, and finish with a performance similar to Friday night at Heinz Field, the underdog will become the WPIAL legend. Do not doubt Whitlock taking this moment and dominating it, it is just what he has done all season.