Lakeland University quarterback Michael Whitley has developed a legend about himself that has turned the QB into a hero at the school. The Muskies senior has set all kinds of school records on the gridiron, but it is his strength of character and humility of spirit that has really made him a superhero on and off the field.
Introducing Michael Whitley
Whether you are a comic book connoisseur or not, most people are well aware of who Superman is and what makes him so special. The superhero is well known for his strength, power, and loyalty to doing what is good. He is truly a noble character.
What adds to the mystique is that as his alter-ego, mild mannered Clark Kent, the superhero is anything but arrogant. He is happy to prod along in life anonymously, going unnoticed, seeking no adulation at all as he works as a common beat reporter. It is that humility that makes him so special.
Lakeland University quarterback Michael Whitley may not be leaping tall buildings or racing faster than a speeding bullet, but when he takes to the gridiron each Saturday he is ready to leap over mammoth linebackers and he is faster than any speeding safety, all while being one of the nicest, most polite and studious young men you will meet.
Like a Meteor from the Sky
Early on, Michael Whitley found himself drawn to athletics. He not only played baseball, but starred in basketball as well. A knee injury in his junior season in high school made it difficult to have the same explosive moves he once had, but did not limit his prowess on the football field. It was at that point that Michael decided that football would be his primary focus. It proved to be a wise decision.
Michael was a four-year letter winner in both basketball and football during his high school career. In his senior season, he was named to the All-State First-Team in football, and was his team’s captain in both his junior and senior seasons, and serving as his team’s captain on the basketball team his final three years in high school.
The star quarterback was no slouch in the classroom either. As easily as he stiff armed an approaching defensive back, Michael performed exceptionally well in his classes, becoming a member of the National Honor Society.
With the kind of success he was having in the classroom and on the field it would seem logical that a lot of colleges and universities would be strongly recruiting the graduate to be, and they were, but few were offering him the opportunity to play quarterback.
“A lot of schools were interested, but none were really recruiting me to play quarterback. None of them really committed to playing me at quarterback. I had a total of 50 touchdowns my senior year, including 40 throwing the ball. No one other the Lakeland really gave me a chance. I’m a little small, but I performed well and I had a good GPA as well.”
It was not until then Muskies Assistant Coach Colin Bruton visited with Michael near the end of his junior season in high school. Coach Colin Bruton was the team’s defensive coordinator for the Muskies at the time, but saw the talent in the young man and knew he would be a good fit at Lakeland. It wasn’t much longer after that when the quarterback knew that he had found his collegiate home.
“I was going to go to sign with Louisiana College on Friday, but Coach Bruton called me on a Tuesday and he was like, ‘Hey, Lakeland University is interested in you playing quarterback. You could potentially play right away,’ so I took some notice and looked into it. I finally visited in June and I just liked the campus, I liked how it felt. I come from a small town, so a small campus went hand in hand with what I was looking for. I was just looking for an opportunity honestly, for a program to just give me an opportunity where they would say, ‘Hey, you could be our starting quarterback,’ and that’s what I got when I came here.”
Finding That Which He Sought
Michael Whitley was looking for the opportunity to play quarterback at the college level, but he was looking for a whole lot more than that. He not only wanted the chance to get a first rate education and to mature as a young man, but to also find a place where he felt that he was part of a community. Lakeland University became the ideal location for it all.
“I knew if I came here that I would be valued. I just wouldn’t be another number. I knew that people would truly like me for who I am, I wouldn’t have to be something that I’m not. I could just be valued here.”
Sheboygan, WI is a fantastic location in many ways, and afforded the football star a great opportunity to grow as a person, but it also offered some challenges he hadn’t really thought about until he got to see them for the first time. They put his strength to the test but, after all, everyone knows that Superman has his kryptonite.
“It was kind of like a shock seeing snow, especially for four months; three or four feet high! It’s like, oh my God, did I really make the right decision? Honestly, building the relationships with my coaches and teammates, people on the whole campus is what kept me here the whole time. I’ve been loving it ever since I came.”
Maybe He Can Leap Tall Buildings
Michael Whitley entered Lakeland University as a business administration major in 2014. With great leadership skills and a strong aptitude for academic success, there was little doubt that he would excel at the school in whatever endeavor he put his mind to.
One of those areas was the football field. Michael appeared in seven games his freshman season, rushing for 268 yards and throwing for 187 more. He also had 3 touchdown passes. He spent much of the season learning from senior A.J. Veloz, but knew that that the next season the job would likely be his.
In 2015, the sophomore was ready to take the reins of the offense and he became an instant star. Michael started all 11games and led the team to a conference title and a trip to the NCAA Division-III playoffs. His numbers were exceptional, passing for 3,257 yards and 34 touchdowns. He completed nearly 61 percent of his passes, plus he led the team with 640 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns.
That season he set several school records, including touchdown passes in a game (6 against Trine, October 17), total yards in a game (520), passing yards in a game (438), and total offense in a season. The numbers earned him honors as the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference (NACC) Offensive Player of the Year and he was selected to the All-Conference team.
In his junior season, Michael continued to dominate on the gridiron. He led the team to their second straight conference title, finishing the season with 2,657 yards passing and 22 touchdowns. He also ran for 426 yards and 9 scores. Many would look at those numbers and think it was an off year, but the fact was that the team had so many early leads that Coach Bruton protected his quarterback by giving other players a chance to get into the contests.
His season earned him a series of accolades. He was once again named the conference Offensive Player of the Year and chosen to the All-Conference First-Team. He broke his own school record for total offense in a game (576 against Aurora on November 5) and was three times chosen as the NACC Offensive Player of the Week.
Growing to Greater Heights
Michael Whitley has clearly proven to be one of the biggest talents in Division-III football but, off the field, the Clark Kent side of him shows. He is one of the most courteous and soft spoken young men you will meet, something that is not lost on the Muskies quarterback.
“A lot of people don’t know, but I’m a quiet guy. I don’t really talk too much, but as I became more of a leader I have become more vocal. I really try to lead by example. I wouldn’t do anything that I wouldn’t want somebody else to do. I try to hold myself to a high standard, that whatever I do I know that people are looking at me. I feel that I have to do this if I want them to do that.”
It is the perfect demeaner because, when you get down to it, what made Superman so amazing was that it was not his incredible powers, but the fact that whether he was the superhero or the mild mannered reporter, helping people was really what he wanted to do. It is the same with Michael.
“I just want to be known as a person who always wanted to help people to become better people. To help people to become a better version of themselves, whether it’s football or whether it’s off the field. To help them to strive to achieve that.”
This is a part of his character that he sees as one of the most important aspects of himself. Like Superman, his family has embedded him with a series of teachings that have helped to guide him in life, and this has led to him wanting to assist others as his family have helped him.
“My mom, my dad, and my two brothers just helped me in this journey of life. They showed me how to live, the dues and the don’ts. How to approach life. I have two older brothers, so most of the things that I’ve encountered in my life they have already encountered. They just showed me and gave me advice as well, as my mom and my dad of course, but they just showed me how to live, how to become a man, and just how to help people, too.”
Look, on the Field!
The lessons that Michael Whitley has learned have served him well. He is hoping to lead Lakeland University to their third straight NACC title and, as he enters Saturday’s contest against Hope College, he may just do that.
In his first game this season, Michael threw for 473 yards and 4 touchdowns, while rushing for 73 yards and 2 more scores. It was a performance that helped the Muskies to a 43-29 victory over Carroll University.
This is the first step in what could very well be an unprecedented third straight NACC title for the Muskies. If Lakeland University’s resident Superman, Michael Whitley, and his legion of superheroes have anything to say about it, that will likely be the case. They will rule the conference, not with superhuman powers, but with great skill, sweat, and dedication to one another, and they will follow their star quarterback’s lead, doing it with quite humility. Just what you would expect from a superhero.
Featured Image Courtesy of the Sheboygan Press
By Robert Pannier