AOTW: Andrew Whitaker on making the most of his final year
Senior Andrew Whitaker isn’t your average college student. On top of his biomedical engineering coursework, Whitaker competes for two different Washington University sports teams: football and track and field. While some football seniors have already chosen to take advantage of an extra year of eligibility next year, Whitaker has not yet decided what next year will look like. In the meantime, he’s working to prepare his two teams for whatever competition might look like this year. Student Life called Whitaker to discuss the two seasons, dealing with uncertain timelines during the pandemic and what life has been like over the last few months for the Wash. U. senior.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Student Life: What has this season been like, without being able to compete with other schools on the field?
Andrew Whitaker: I feel like it’s kind of been like an extended offseason. We’ve been able to start track season early, and for football, practices have been going pretty well. We’re not able to have contact and we’re wearing masks the whole time, so we’re staying safe. But you have to maintain within yourself, so you have to build that team camaraderie, you still have to know that you will compete eventually, so you have to keep growing, keep building and keep your goals and focus.
SL: What do those practices look like right now? You said they’re non-contact. Are they lifting? What’s the sort of protocol?
AW: So, half the practice is lifting. We lift with our sports performance trainer, TO [Terry O’Neill], and then the other half [of practice] is individual drills within your position group. So I’m a defensive back. I do DB drills and then we’ll do a team period for defense where we basically just spread out and walk through different coverages and defenses and we’ll do a little bit of running at the end.
SL: What’s it like being a senior, your last year, during all of that?
AW: I kinda feel old, especially when you start looking at the freshmen and their baby faces and their inexperience, but it’s cool. I’m glad I’m a senior with a new coach, Coach [Aaron] Keen. I think it’s really good to give him a great transition onto the team. We’ve started to implement some new things with him here, such as bringing in a sports psychologist. Once a week we bring in a sports psychologist and get everyone’s minds right, that really helps. And especially now, with all of the stress that’s going on from different arenas, it’s a perfect time—it could really help. It’s strange. It’s not how I had hoped my senior season would look like, but you take what you can in stride and you just keep on moving.
SL: What have you been doing to make the most of it and exercise leadership?
AW: I think one of the things is stressing to everyone that everyone else is working out now, too. Everyone else is doing the exact same thing we’re doing, they may even be able to have contact and stuff. It’s not enough that you just show up, you have to focus on your details. Every drill still matters, every lift, every rep, everything still matters. And you have to give it your all. We are a very competitive school and we’re not here to lose. Even if I don’t get to play, we’re not here to lose. I want to leave the program in the best shape possible and that’s not just on the field. You work on the details off the field, you work on film, you stress the importance of techniques and then you build team camaraderie like that. Having dinners with teammates and stuff still shouldn’t end because at the end of the day, you are playing for each other and you need to get to know each other to be able to play for each other.
SL: What’s it like being on two different teams at once? There’s the potential that track has a season and you’d have to do both sports at the same time.
AW: Yeah, that goes back to your timeline question. I lowkey wish that I just knew. If the football season is canceled, it’s canceled, and I just wish I knew that, so that I could really focus on track and really focus on [that] team. Not that I wouldn’t be at football stuff, but they’re just two different shapes: football, you’re building muscle mass, you’re getting stronger, your upper body is more important. And then track is just speed, speed, speed, and you’ve got to to work on your lower body. It’s a lot of taking care of your body because track season lasts so long, usually. So it will be interesting, if that does happen, for whatever reason, we do have a track season, and maybe we do have a few games of football. It will put me in a precarious situation for sure. But I’m practicing twice a day now, so it would be nothing too hard that I couldn’t do. There’s a lot of other football-track guys in that same position.
SL: Do you have a new, pandemic-inspired hobby?
AW: I’ve picked up quite a few hobbies, actually. I’m not one to watch a lot of TV or movies, unless I’m watching with people. So I like to find creative stuff to do. A few of my quarantine skills, as I like to call them. I am a barber now. If you need a fresh cut Josh, hit me up, I got you.
SL: I could probably use one soon, actually.
AW: I’ll give you a nice fade. I’ve learned to cook. I can cook some pretty good dishes, like tikka masala and some really good grilled salmon, some Puerto Rican chicken, so a spectrum of dishes. I started a little bit of wood carving. I made a clock, that was cool. Just some random, weird skills.
SL: Wow, that sounds like a lot.
AW: Yeah, another thing I’ve been involved with outside of hobbies is getting people to vote. I’ve been really passionate about getting people to register as poll workers. I’m a poll worker, and I’ve got a lot of football players to also become poll workers. [Football player junior] Tennyson Holmes has been working with Student Union to get that going. I think everybody being more involved with the democratic process is always a great thing. I think people need to be more aware. I know politics are draining, especially now with the news cycle going on. But I think people need to be educated and informed to make informed decisions. Because at the end of the day, [elected officials] really do affect our lives. And they affect a lot of other people’s lives who could really use some help, especially now…With everything going on with Black Lives Matter, I feel like some of it is kind of draining. I feel like that has definitely been the hardest part of my summer and now. Just seeing people that look like me getting shot in the streets by cops is emotionally horrible. I’m going to be out of this Wash. U. bubble next year, and then I’m going to have more interactions with police. And it’s just hard to think that any day I could just get pulled over and shot and killed and become a hashtag.
SL: How have the teams been banding together during all of this, like have people been attending protests? Has there been action on behalf of the football or track teams?
AW: Yeah, we’ve done lots of discussions through both teams. As a track team, we watched the “13th” documentary. We have open discussions with people speaking about their experiences. Tomorrow, the track team is speaking with one of the police chiefs in St. Louis. He used to play football at Wash. U., so we’re talking to him and seeing what his input on the situation is. It’s going to be an interesting conversation and I’ve got some hot topic questions for him.