High School Sports

On a mission

Former Rock Hill standout Arkee Whitlock works on running drills during camp.
Former Rock Hill standout Arkee Whitlock works on running drills during camp.

Arkee Whitlock knows the odds are steep, but he's ready for the challenge.

Whitlock, a former Rock Hill High School standout, was hoping his name would be called during the NFL draft. It wasn't.

When the Minnesota Vikings called and offered him a free-agent contract, it was an offer he couldn't refuse.

"When I didn't get drafted, I didn't get rattled or lose my focus,'' Whitlock said. "Several teams called me during the draft -- about eight teams -- so I knew if I didn't get drafted, one of those teams would call back.

"I was prepared to take the long drive through free agency and was blessed with the opportunity to sign with Minnesota. I took a draft visit there and met the coaches. I talked to the Vikings' backs coach, Eric Bieniemy, while I was there and we developed a good relationship.''

Whitlock said the talks continued throughout the draft, with several calls from Bieniemy. He told Whitlock if he wasn't drafted, the Vikings wanted to sign him. Whitlock also considered San Diego, but said Minnesota showed the most interest and offered the best financial package.

The Vikings are crowded at running back. The depth chart lists Chester Taylor, Mewelde Moore, Ciatric Faison and Artose Pinner as the top four. Their first pick in the draft at No. 7 overall was Adrian Peterson out of Oklahoma.

Counting Whitlock, the Vikings are taking eight tailbacks to training camp on the campus of Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minn., on July 27.

"I haven't thought about how many running backs they have,'' Whitlock said. "The Vikings showed interest in me, so I'm going there to take advantage of the reps I get and make the best of it.

"It's hard to say what my chances are. My goal is to put good things on film for the front office to see. They are the ones who make the decisions. I can also return kicks and catch passes, and they will give me opportunities to do several things during the preseason.''

Whitlock has attended Vikings' rookie and team mini-camps since the draft. He also attended the team's offseason team activities -- weightlifting, conditioning and seven-on-seven passing drills.

His immediate goal is to go to training camp and build on what he's already shown the coaches.

Whitlock was Rock Hill's middle linebacker his junior season. He led the Bearcats in tackles and was a backup tailback.

His senior year in 2001, Whitlock was the starting tailback and rushed for 1,733 yards on 278 carries -- an average of 6.2 -- and scored 13 touchdowns. He also caught 12 passes for 151 yards and a pair of TDs and was named The Herald's All-Area Offensive Player of the Year.

Whitlock, the son of Beverly Whitlock and Lawrence Whitlock, a former Northwestern High School standout, helped the Bearcats to a 10-4 record and a second straight trip to the Big 16 final four.

Being a Bearcats' tailback was another of Whitlock's dreams. Rock Hill has been blessed at that position through the years. Whitlock wanted to follow in the footsteps of players like Chris Hope, a defensive back who played on Pittsburgh's Super Bowl championship team in 2004 and now plays for Tennessee.

"I admire Chris,'' Whitlock said. "He was Superman to me ... watching him hit people and run over them. He was the best thing that ever happened to Rock Hill. I want to add my name next to his and the line of successful players from this area making it to the NFL.

"I'm one of the guys who is blessed with the opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream. Tons of players from this area had the potential to meet those dreams. I'm fortunate to be one of the select few who had the opportunity to make it to the next level.''

After high school, Whitlock began his college career at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. He played one season after being redshirted in 2001 and rushed for 1,383 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Washington State and Marshall offered Whitlock a scholarship, but he chose Southern Illinois, a NCAA Division I-AA school.

"I went to Southern Illinois because the coach who recruited me to Coffeyville, Rob Reeves, took a job there as the running backs coach and the tailback spot was open," he said." It was a good opportunity for me to go there and play right away.

"I made the most of it. I made the right decision. Coming out of JUCO (junior college), it's hard to match your classes up with a four-year school. You want to go where you can play right away and have your academics in line. I had the opportunity to go in and play three years.''

At Southern Illinois, Whitlock started 35 of 36 games. In three seasons, he rushed for 4,442 yards and 51 touchdowns. He was an NCAA Division I-AA first-team All-American his senior season after rushing for 1,828 yards and 25 TDs.

Reeves said if Whitlock gets some breaks and if the Vikings take a good look at him, his former star tailback has a chance of sticking with the team.

"As far as a player for us, Arkee was great,'' Reeves said. "He can do a lot of things well and is very talented. Arkee has a knack for the game because he works hard, never takes a play or day off.

"When you factor all of that in, he has a great shot at making it in the pros. You never know about players, what NFL teams are looking for. He's not the fastest or biggest player, but look at him on film and he can play. He's a natural.''

Whitlock graduated but still has to complete a Spanish course he's taking online. Once that's done, he'll have a degree in speech communication and hopes to eventually be a sports announcer after football.

Whitlock played in this year's all-star Hula Bowl in Hawaii. He had a long kickoff return, caught two passes and had three carries.

"I did well all week in practice,'' he said. "The scouts were there all week to evaluate the players. The game was more laid-back than practice. Most of the scouts were gone by then.''

Growing up in Rock Hill and playing football at all levels, Whitlock was a "big'' San Francisco fan. His favorite players were Joe Montana, Roger Craig and John Taylor, but said he liked all of them.

But he's changed to the Vikings, the team that's offering him the chance to live out his dream.

Going into this year's draft, Whitlock was described by analysts as a talented running back with good speed and field vision. The rap was that he has thin legs, weighs 203 lbs., and that his 5-foot-9 size might hold him back.

Whitlock laughs at the negatives.

"I read that,'' Whitlock said. "Ever since I was a kid, my legs have been big and strong and have been my strength. "As far as being 5-9, it allows me to run low to the ground and us my strength from down low.

"I've always been challenged by height, but I've also always proved people wrong. A lot of guys my size have had success at the next level.''

• 2001: Rushed for 1,733 yards and 13 TDs during senior season at Rock Hill High School.

• 2002: Signed with Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College and was redshirted.

• 2003: Ran for 1,813 yards and 17 TDs in first year at Coffeyville.

• 2004-06: Started 35 of 36 games at tailback for Southern Illinois. Rushed for 4,412 yards and 51 TDs.

• 2007: Signed a free-agent contract with Minnesota after not being drafted.

• July 27, 2007: Reports to Vikings training camp with hopes of making the team.