Jaxson Whittiker has options in a bind when he’s lined up to punt.
Like the option of kicking with either foot.
The Hilldale junior has done it twice this year with his left foot, once against Checotah and again against Poteau, and both times on punts.
“Growing up I played soccer my whole life and you have to learn to use both feet, and I was able to start doing that for football,” he said.
“It’s uncommon. I know that for sure.”
On the occasions he’s gone southpaw, it’s been about field position and situation, he said.
“The ball was on the right hash both times, we were punting it left,” he said.
“I constantly practice on it all the time,” he said of working with both feet. “It’s come pretty natural.”
He gives thanks to Phil McWilliams, the kickoff coach, and Hilldale head coach David Blevins, who handles PATs and punting, for honing his skills and situational understandings.
“They’ve helped me get there,” he said.
Blevins said in both left-footed punt situations, it was where he felt they could trap the return team or throw them off with a rugby (style) punt.
In seven games with both legs, cut short by quarantine time, he’s averaging 40.2 yards on 17 punts. He missed three games in October and didn’t have to punt in a week one win against Tulsa Rogers. He averaged 57 yards on two last week and has a roll-assisted season-long 67-yarder against Stilwell.
“He’s had as good numbers as anyone in the state,” said Blevins.
Whittiker is also 43 of 47 on extra points and 4 of 6 on field goals, his longest a 26-yarder. And handles kickoffs as well. But nothing from the left side there, yet.
And as it has evolved, Whittiker’s throwing arm can be another weapon. He’s had two fourth-down pass completions for first downs in four attempts.
And no, he’s not a switch-thrower.
“When I started playing football as a freshman I didn’t have throwing experience and didn’t at all until this year,” he said. “Those years of playing catch with my dad in the yard came in handy.”
Whittiker may have that chance Friday when the Hornets host Grove in the second week of playoff action. Kickoff is 7:30.
• Grove enters Friday’s contest 7-3 and off a 41-17 win over Muldrow. The Ridgerunners have won four of their last five with the only loss a 59-14 setback against 4A No. 1 Wagoner. In spite of that route, that’s the most points anyone has scored against a defense under the direction of former Hornet assistant Ryan Keenom.
Players to keep an eye on include tailback Emmanual Crawford, a speedster who also returned a kickoff back against Wagoner; Kadian Forbis, a wingback and outside linebacker who was named to the Blue-Gray All-American Game in October; Greg McCurdy, a slot receiver who will also line up at fullback, and sophomore quarterback Carson Trimble. The Ridgerunners run a four-man defensive front.
• Blevins hopes last week’s 42-0 win over Miami was the last time he will be a part of a playoff game involving a team outside the top four finishers in a district, much less a team that hadn’t won a game all year.
A flat performance was followed by a flat attendance — probably a third of the normal home attendance — and, as he noted, a reliable Most Valuable Player.
No, not running back Eric Virgil — although his presence out of quarantine might have helped.
“I’m glad we’re getting our band back,” he said. “They make a difference to me in the atmosphere, they get loud and rocking and without them, it was just dead. (Tad) Clark does a good job with that program, the kids are there, eager to play and demands a lot out of them.”
• Linebacker Jaden McWilliams had a team-leading 13 tackles, three for lost yardage, in the win over Miami. He leads the team with 113 tackles, 21 for lost real estate and two behind Cason Albin. McWilliams got the staff’s defensive player of the Miami game. Dylan Walker got the offensive nod with his seven catches for 148 yards and a TD, and on defense had an interception and three pass deflections.
• The winner will get either No. 2 Weatherford or Cushing next week. Weatherford would host with a win. Hilldale would host Cushing.