If not for a fortuitous phone call from Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos earlier this year, Blake Whitlock said he probably would be taking classes at the University of Nevada, perhaps working for his dad’s painting company.
A Reno native, Whitlock played two seasons at Saddleback (Calif.) College, but he did not have many options to continue playing, mostly at small schools. He wanted the chance to play at as high a level as possible.
UTEP offered him last fall with the hopes of adding him in the spring, but he was two credits shy of graduating in December, so he had to return to Saddleback for another semester and the offer was pulled.
“I was actually pretty close to just hanging them up,” Whitlock said. “... there’s a time when reality hits and I kind of saw it coming. Then coach Avalos gave me a phone call, said they had a position for me to walk on. It was a no-brainer for me.”
At 6-foot-1, 208 pounds, Whitlock said “schools would call and ask about me, they’d show up and actually see me, and wouldn’t be too interested anymore.”
But safeties coach Gabe Franklin, who was added to the Boise State staff in February from UTEP, definitely remembered Whitlock and when it came time to find walk-ons, he mentioned it to Avalos. So, Whitlock joined the Broncos this summer as a walk-on, and quickly made an impression on defense at linebacker and on special teams. He was put on scholarship during fall camp and has played all four games this season.
“I was just grateful to have a jersey to put on, some cleats, to be able to wear a football helmet again,” Whitlock said.
Last Saturday against Utah State, Whitlock not only got to play, he got his first start as senior Tanner Vallejo did not play because of injury. He had four tackles (one for loss) and broke up a pass against the Aggies.
“I think I played all right, I was happy with how I played, being my first start, I had a little bit of nerves coming in,” Whitlock said. “... being on The Blue is incredible, especially having my first start being on (it).”
This season, Whitlock has 13 tackles (three for loss) and a sack.
“He’s awesome, a great dude, really fortunate to have him here,” Avalos said. “... we ask a lot of that position, because you know who plays that position in front of him.”
A dream that Whitlock had long hoped for has come true, and playing in front of 36,000 fans instead of the 2,000 or so he said was the largest he’d seen prior, it has been more than worth it.
“Completely surreal. Going through the smoke, running out of the tunnel, I closed my eyes when I ran through it. It’s almost like waking up from a dream, you’re running into a dream, really,” Whitlock said. “... I always wanted something like that, being from a small place, not a big town, playing junior college football, it’s something you dream of, but you’re not sure will ever come to fruition.
“I want to take advantage of every opportunity I get, whether it’s one play a game, whether it’s one kickoff, I’m going to make the most of it.”