BYU, Utes football: Growing up a Whittingham is a tough but welcome task for Utah's Jason Whittingham

Published: Thursday, Sept. 19 2013 5:40 p.m. MDT

Utah's Jason Whittingham practices at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, August 18, 2012.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Jason Whittingham doesn’t have the luxury of obscurity.

From the moment he began playing, he’s carried with him the tradition of tough, talented, defensive-minded football players that started with the patriarch of that legacy — the late Fred Whittingham Sr.

When your grandfather’s nickname is Mad Dog, you really can’t get away with anything other than a Herculean-like effort, even if the task is filling water bottles. There is also a bit more scrutiny when you’re the nephew of Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, a guy who earned awards as a linebacker at BYU and who's coached multiple defensive award-winners.

While some might see that tradition as a heavy burden, Jason said growing up a Whittingham has more advantages than drawbacks — especially when it comes to football.

“There is a little pressure, obviously because of the family name, and the tradition we have in football,” said the 22-year-old redshirt sophomore, who, like his father, uncles and grandfather, plays linebacker. “My grandpa is obviously a great coach, and a great player before he was a coach, but I don’t feel too much pressure. I just try to do my best, and do what I know is right. I try to do what my uncle and my dad tell me because they obviously have been where I am now, and I try taking advice from them. It works out most, well, all of the time.”

He said the real advantage is that when he has questions, he has a number of resources, starting with his father, Timpview High head coach Cary Whittingham, who led the T-birds to a state title in his first season at the helm of the program last fall.

“He’s always there for me, and he has a lot of great advice for me,” Jason said. “He comes off as intimidating to a lot of people. He is a quiet guy. He just tries to lead by example and he lets his actions do the talking for him. He is very tough. I try and learn from him and how he lives his life. I try to take that toughness on in my own life as well.”

Jason said one night he remembers well is the night his uncle Kyle gathered the family together in December 2004 to tell them he would stay at Utah rather than take the helm of his alma mater.

“I remember that night quite well,” he said. “We were all over at his house. It was a tough decision, and a lot of family was over there helping him have a clear mind so he could make the right decision for himself and his family. I think he did make the right decision.”

Whittingham said he wanted his uncle to take the BYU job, but not because he favored the Cougars over the Utes.

“I kind of had a little fantasy going there in my head,” he said smiling. “It was exciting to know that my family could all come down and live with me in Utah County. But I kind of knew he’d stay at Utah, that he’d stay loyal to where he’d been all those years. And I think he did what was in his heart. I think he made the right choice.”

Jason sometimes prods his father to regale him with stories of his BYU glory days, including the year the Cougars were national champs in 1984. Both his father and his uncle, Fred Whittingham Jr., now director of player personnel at Utah, played on that team.

“He doesn’t ever brag about anything,” said Jason of Cary Whittingham. “Sometimes I ask my dad who was on the 1984 national championship team, and what that was like, but he doesn’t have much to say. He just kind of brushes it off like it was no big deal.”

Still, Jason knows there is more to the story because he sees the dedication of his uncles and his father to both the game and to their families.

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