Jordan Whitehead’s future is in football and he has about 20 Division I scholarship offers to show for it. So when he decided to try running track last spring, Whitehead said, “I did it just for fun, nothing real serious.”
But fun could be winning a WPIAL track championship. Seriously.
The WPIAL track and field individual championships are Thursday at Baldwin, and Whitehead is one of the favorites to become the fastest kid in the WPIAL.
Whitehead, a junior at Central Valley High School, has the fastest 100-meter time in WPIAL Class AAA this season at 10.89 seconds. Mt. Lebanon’s Troy Apke, a Penn State football recruit, is second at 10.96 and Gateway’s Jae’Len Means is third at 10.97.
At the WPIAL qualifying meets last Tuesday, Means had the fastest time at 10.97 and Whitehead was second at 11.02.
The championship race could come down to Whitehead, Apke and Means, but Whitehead certainly wasn’t thinking about WPIAL titles when he started running a year ago. One of the main reasons he came out for track was because Central Valley football coach Mark Lyons became an assistant track coach.
“It was pretty much for coach Lyons,” Whitehead said of his reasons. “But it feels good to win. I figure if I’m out there, I might as well win.”
Whitehead has made great progress in track in one year. He didn’t even make the WPIAL championship meet a year ago. This spring, he also has qualified for the championships in the 200 and is running a leg on the 400-meter relay team that also has qualified.
“I think the biggest change from last year is his stamina,” Lyons said. “Last year, he was strictly a 100 guy and ran the [400 relay]. Now he’s also running the 200 and is the anchor on the relay.”
Whitehead doesn’t come by his running ability by accident. His mother, Antonia Whitehead, was Antonia Sims when she ran track at Center High School in the mid 1980s. She finished second in the WPIAL 100-meter dash in 1985 and fourth in 1986. She had the school record in the 100 at one point and she had a twin brother, Antonio Sims, who also held Center’s school record at one time in the 300 hurdles.
Also, Jordan Whitehead’s father, Greg, was a talented basketball player at NCAA Division III College of Staten Island (N.Y.) in the 1980s.
“I think it is great what he is doing in track,” Lyons said. “He is a well-rounded kid, his family is solid and they make sure he’s grounded. He’s in line to maybe graduate early next year as a senior, but he really doesn’t want to leave. He enjoys high school.
“I still appreciate tremendous athletes like him who letter in different sports. He’s close to trying to play basketball again next year. Those are the guys we need to get excited about, the athletes who letter in two, three or even four sports. Those are the special ones.”
A lot of major colleges think Whitehead is a special football player. He is 5 feet 11, 180 pounds and is being recruited heavily as a defensive back. Whitehead said, contrary to some reports, he has not narrowed down his list of colleges. He has said he likes Pitt, Penn State, Ohio State and West Virginia.
“They have kind of been there all along,” Whitehead said. “But I think that’s what people get confused. I said those four have been there all along and they are at the top, but I’m looking at other schools, too.”
An Alabama assistant coach came to Central Valley recently to see Whitehead, but the Crimson Tide have yet to offer a scholarship. Miami, Michigan State and Virginia Tech are among the other schools that have offered. Whitehead said he is going to wait until after his senior football season to make a college decision.
“I just don’t think I’m ready to make a decision,” said Whitehead. “It’s a hard process.”
For more on high school sports, go to “Varsity Blog” at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh.