As he was walking off the field at William & Mary Sunday night in the wake of Louisa County’s state title game defeat at the hands of Salem, there was one other Louisa player lingering behind senior Job Whalen.
Whalen slowed down before he stepped on the track that surrounds the field, allowing his teammate to pass, assuring he’d be the last Lion off the field. It was fitting considering the Louisa program’s eternal commitment to trying to be the first team on the field every August with a midnight or early morning practice and the last team the step off of it with a run to a state title.
Plus, Whalen didn’t want a conversation only he can hear to stop. He needed a few more precious moments.
“I was just talking to my mom as I was walking off the field,” Whalen said. “Saying I love you mom and telling myself I hope I made her proud. I felt something come across me that started talking to me, carrying me off the field.”
Whalen, who lost his mother Jo-Anne to cancer last fall, has been talking to her ever since, a running dialogue that’s helped fuel Whalen during an incredible season that capped an incredible career.
The Lions’ football program has been a steadying force for not just Whalen but his family.
“It’s just a wonderful feeling seeing him doing what he’s been doing especially with what he’s went through,” said Job’s father Edward Whalen. “The team has been 100 percent behind us and without the team being a family for us I don’t know how we would’ve dealt with it.”
Sunday night, the younger Whalen did a little bit of everything in a Herculean effort to try and bring the Lions back from a 14-0 deficit that left them trying to scratch and claw their way back all night. The program’s all-time leading rusher is also now fifth all-time in Scrimmage Play area history with 5,135 career rushing yards, the product of one of the most consistent careers in recent memory. Whalen has produced year in and year out along with backfield mates Malik Bell and Raquan Jones. Whalen rushed for 679 yards as a freshman, 1,600 as a sophomore, 1,421 as a junior and 1,435 as a senior.
Whalen and his golden cleats had actually been kept largely in check during the postseason on offense until he exploded for 173 yards against Salem on just 20 touches. It was overshadowed by his counterpart for Salem, DeAngelo Ramsey, who rushed for 256 yards on 22 carries, but Whalen’s incredible performance was a big reason Louisa had a shot at a comeback late.
He’s also been a defensive force during the playoffs, making a number of key stops as part of a season where he’s made 86 total tackles, including 15 for a loss while also leading the Lions with nine sacks and 13 quarterback hurries.
But all the numbers don’t mean as much as what he’s done for the Lions by just being himself: a pillar of strength despite enduring personal tragedy.
“If you wake up the next morning and look in the mirror and say you gave it all you’ve got, that’s all you can ask for,” Whalen said. “We wanted to play as many games as we could and we met that goal. We wanted to be talked about for years and years to come and be the team that’s remembered. At the end of the day we’re one of those ones that made it to the show.”
That conversation will definitely go on for a long time if the way Louisa reminiscences about the 2006 edition of the Lions is any indication.
And that other conversation, that one that only Whalen can hear, likely won’t end anytime soon either. No matter what he’s standing on, be it turf or grass or a sidewalk or the floor of a hallway at Louisa County High School, he’ll talk, he’ll ask questions, and he’ll hear his mother.
Surely, she’ll be proud and she’ll be there to carry him.