Friday Night Hero: Salisbury's Ike Whitaker
By Ronnie Gallagher
Salisbury running backs coach Darius Bryson says most teams try to key on A.J. Ford and Dario Hamilton for obvious reasons.
“They’re such great players and always have been,” Bryson said.
Ike Whitaker hopes opponents do. The Hornet fullback will make them pay.
“They’re good athletes,” Whitaker said of his backfield mates, “and when you’ve got good athletes, they need to get the ball. I don’t mind them getting it. But when I get it, I have to show off my talents.”
North Rowan saw too much of Whitaker on Friday in a 52-8 Hornet win. While the Cavaliers keyed on Hamilton (69 yards) and Ford (68), Whitaker led all rushers with 110 yards on just 10 carries.
Whitaker, who has helped Salisbury win on both sides of the ball, says he enjoys offense better.
“I like being in the spotlight and putting others in the spotlight (by blocking),” Whitaker said. “Offense is where you get the most shine time.”
Head coach Joe Pinyan figured in preseason that if there was a two-way Hornet, it would be Whitaker, a 5-foot-7, 195-pound rock.
“Ike’s that workhorse-type guy,” Pinyan said. “He plays as hard as anybody on the team. Pound-for-pound, he’s as strong as anybody on our team.”
Bryson loves his three-headed monster in the backfield but realizes defense needs a little bit of Iron Ike too.
Midway through the season, Pinyan started playing him on defense due to injuries.
“He’s really helpful on defensive line,” Bryson said. “Guys get tired and we don’t have a lot of depth there. We try to get him a little bit of rest sometimes so he won’t be tired when he comes over to offense.”
“I’ll play anything to help the team,” Whitaker said.
Pinyan pointed to the Lexington win where Whitaker rushed for just 25 yards, but made big plays on defense.
“Our other backs have played defense but Ike has to play in the trenches because he’s a little bit stronger,” Pinyan smiled.
But offense is where Pinyan wants him. He’s the prototypical Salisbury fullback, following in the footsteps of Ed Kerr, Mike McKay and Robbie Pulliam.
“Everybody thinks a fullback is a big ol’ 6-2, 230-pound guy,” Pinyan said. “We like little guys who are quick, can make good cuts and have pretty good speed.”
Whitaker is taylor-made for the spot.
Bryson, who was a star in the backfield at Smokey Mountain High School, loves to coach this group, especially when Whitaker, Hamilton and Ford are all chewing up yardage.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said Bryson, in his first year coaching under Pinyan. “Whenever Ike has a good game, it loosens up the defense for the other two. He’s one of the hardest runners we have.”
And when he gets his chance, Iron Ike makes the most of it. But he’s a team player first.
“All backs like to get the ball,” Bryson said. “But Ike understands his role.”
It’s the role of helping the Hornets win, regardless of which side of the ball he’s on.