25 Hours a Day
Paul Whiting ’04 celebrates a football victory, but it could as easily have been a baseball or track win, as he excels in all three sports.
“I want to make the most of the opportunities I’ve been given and the talents I have. The best way I can respond to the blessings of being able to come to a place like Amherst is to invest myself 100 percent.” —Paul Whiting ’04
Senior Paul Whiting needs more hours in his day, literally. Each morning he looks at his schedule, and it’s like trying to fit an elephant in a suitcase—too many places to go, too many people to see and not enough time. Everything has to be compartmentalized, tucked neatly into different sections of his life and pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle.
Sports? His athletic itinerary is enough to make your head spin. He’s a captain, three-year starter and a two-time Verizon/CoSIDA Academic All-District defensive back in football. He’s an All-NESCAC centerfielder and a four-year starter on the baseball team. In between he makes time for indoor track, where he’s an ECAC qualifier in the triple jump and a school record holder in the 4 x 200 relay.
Schoolwork? Whiting’s a straight-A student and a neuroscience major, darting between practices and labs, winning the college’s prestigious Samuel Walley Brown Scholarship for scholarship and citizenship. He’s headed for med school.
Extracurriculars? Among countless commitments, Whiting heads the leadership team for the Amherst Christian Fellowship, planning events like Operation Christmas Child, which collects shoeboxes full of toys and ships them to needy children around the globe. And he’s a student leader for Athletes in Action, organizing weekly Bible study groups for athletes on campus.
Faith? He’s a leader among his peers at the First Baptist Church of Amherst, where he participates in weekly Bible study and, on several occasions, has helped prepare lunch for the entire congregation and visitors to the church. Most of the nearly 100 area college students in attendance on a given Sunday were invited by Whiting.
Free time? You might find him on weekends cooking, serving and eating meals with homeless people and low- income families at Not Bread Alone, a soup kitchen in Amherst, or working with Shoes That Fit, a local community service organization that matches needy children with gifts during the holiday season.
As for fun? “Sports are my outlet,” he says, smiling. “Football is very social, it’s outside, it’s exercise and it accomplishes so much. And the relationships on the team—you’re with the guys, hanging out, eating dinner together. It’s so much fun during the week that I can handle just getting down to my schoolwork when I have free time.”
“We often kid,” quips Amherst head coach E.J. Mills, “that he makes you feel bad because you’re rushing around, thinking you’re busy, and he’s out there ringing a bell with a Santa suit on, majoring in neuroscience and playing three sports. I always say he’s got 28 or 29 hours in the day, that kid.”
Summers? Oh yeah, they’re full too. His most recent was spent interning in the emergency department at the Baystate Medical Center in nearby Springfield, Mass., one of his favorite experiences yet. “You never know what you’ll see in the ER,” he says. “The first day I almost passed out. A man had an abscess on his finger, and the doctor was draining it. She squeezed it and it popped, and some of the fluid squirted across the room against a wall. It was so surprising that I started getting light-headed. The doctor sat me down and told me to put my head between my legs. I was fine a few minutes later, and all the nurses were telling me, ‘It’s okay, it happens to everybody on their first day.’ I was totally fine the rest of the year.”
He spent the previous summer as a research intern at the Whitehead Institute at MIT, learning molecular biology lab techniques and assisting graduate and postdoctoral students in their research. The summer before that, he worked as an observer and translator at the University of California Irvine Medical Center in Irvine, Calif., shadowing attending neurologists and translating for Spanish-speaking patients at a weekly outpatient epilepsy clinic. “I want to go to medical school,” he says, “but I want to make sure it’s right for me. It takes doing it. It takes getting involved and getting your hands dirty and seeing what a doctor does day-to-day. The internships were validating for me. I now know this is something I definitely want to do.”
Rushing around juggling school and sports is nothing new for Whiting. It’s a skill he picked up as a three-sport standout at Mission Viejo High School in Southern California. “Our baseball games were on Wednesdays and Fridays,” he remembers, “and track meets were usually Thursdays. On the day of a meet, I’d leave baseball practice early and run to the track, take off my baseball pants, throw on my track jersey, warm up a little bit and start triple jumping. Some days I’d finish a baseball game, jump in a car, race over to a track meet and hope I could get there in time to jump before it ended.”
He was all-league in baseball and a conference champion in the triple jump, but football remained Whiting’s best and favorite sport. He was a two-way starter, a captain and an all-conference wide receiver on a high-profile program coached by nationally renowned quarterback guru Bob Johnson, the father of ex-USC and current NFL quarterback Rob Johnson. Whiting won the team’s scholar-athlete award, the school’s Spirit of a Diablo Award (for excellence in athletics and academics) and was presented the John Wooden Scholar Athlete Award for all of Southern California at the 1999 John R. Wooden College Basketball Classic.
“He was an outstanding kid and an outstanding player, and I thought he could really shine at the small Division I or I-AA level,” says Johnson. But Whiting didn’t want to give up baseball and track. “The reason I play sports and enjoy it so much and am willing to put all the time into it is because I just love being out there on the field, playing in the games and being part of a team,” he says. “That’s what you work for. When I finally weighed my options, Amherst seemed so much more attractive—to be at a place where it was encouraged to play more than one sport.”
Once at Amherst, Whiting excelled almost immediately on the football field. He learned the ropes as a first-year behind veteran defensive backs Steve Yung ’01 and Brian Daoust ’01, and saw action in the Jeffs’ dramatic 20-12 win over archrival Williams, which broke a 13-game winless streak in the series. He claimed the starting job as a sophomore and exploded for a career-high nine solo tackles in a 23-0 Homecoming win over Little Three rival Wesleyan. Whiting finished the year with 31 tackles on a defense that tied a 21-year-old NCAA record by not allowing a passing touchdown all season long. His junior year brought yet another victory over Williams, a career-best 39 tackles, a pair of interceptions and the second of two-straight Academic All-District awards. In the Jeffs’ 2003 opener, a 34-0 shutout win at Bates and his first game as a captain, Whiting made six solo tackles, intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble. It was the fourth straight year Amherst has opened its season with a shutout.
“Paul’s a tough, tough football player,” says three-year teammate and fellow defensive back Bryan Dolan ’05. “He hits hard and goes 100 percent every play. He never lets down.”
Football seemed to come naturally, but his baseball career proved to be more of a challenge. Whiting was a bit of a mystery to the coaching staff, which heard he had explosive speed but didn’t know much else about him. Nevertheless, he emerged as the starting centerfielder midway through his first season, played all 34 games as a sophomore and earned Second-Team All-NESCAC honors as a junior, batting .287, finishing second in the conference with 15 stolen bases and leading the Jeffs to the NESCAC West Division Championship. “He was a very pleasant surprise,” says Amherst baseball coach Bill Thurston. “He came into the program with good speed, he was an excellent outfielder and he threw very well. He had some holes in his swing but he learned to make adjustments. He’s turned into an outstanding player for us and one of the best defensive centerfielders I’ve had in years. I’d love to have nine Paul Whitings on my team.”
Whiting found similar success on the track, emerging as the team’s preeminent triple jumper and finding a new niche as a runner on the 4 x 200-meter relay team. Says Amherst track and cross country coach Erik Nedeau, “The only thing bad I can say about Paul is I wish he wasn’t such a good baseball player, because then he might run indoor and outdoor track. I love the kid.”
Despite his considerable success, Whiting remains humble and grounded. He lets his faith and his willingness to help others define him, and he looks at sports as a way to celebrate that faith.“I feel like God has blessed me with the body and talent to be able to play sports. It’s sort of an act of worship to play out there and exert myself physically. I think the reason we’re all here at Amherst and around in general is not always about ourselves, what we can do and what we can accomplish. It’s about how we can make ourselves the best people possible. I want to be aware of how I can make a difference beyond football and academics and make an impact on people’s lives.”
He’s been recognized for those efforts more and more as of late. On Sept. 17, Whiting was one of just 11 players from NCAA Divisions I-AA, II, III and the NAIA named to the 12th Annual American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Good Works Team, which honors college football players across the country for their dedication and commitment to community service. He was also a leading candidate for the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame National Scholar Athlete Award, which recognizes players for academic and civic leadership as well as football ability. “If my son grows up to have the character, abilities and initiative Paul displays,” says Greg Mozel, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Amherst, “I’ll be really thankful and feel truly blessed. He’s a magnet of leadership in people’s lives in the church, on campus and on the sports fields. He meshes together faith, character and natural abilities, and meshes them together beautifully.”
Photo: Frank Ward
During halftime at this year’s Homecoming football victory over Wesleyan, the 1953 Lord Jeffs (below) reunited on the field to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their undefeated season. The ’53 team finished 7-0-1, a season highlighted by an opening 7-6 upset win over Brown University and a season-ending 28-14 win over archrival Williams College. The squad remains one of only five undefeated teams in the program’s 123-season history, and only two Amherst teams have gone undefeated since: in 1964 and 1984.