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Gorman: Central Valley star Whitehead a ‘special player’

Tribune-Review
| Friday, November 7, 2014 10:48 p.m
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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Central Valley's Jordan Whitehead (3) tries to avoid West Allegheny's Christian Stout during the fourth quarter Friday, Oct. 24, 2014, in Center.

The most electrifying player in Western Pennsylvania is a threat to score a touchdown every time the ball is in his hands.

That always was the problem for Jordan Whitehead.

The Central Valley star’s focus primarily was as a defensive back prior to this season, so his touches were as limited as his knowledge of his individual statistics.

“To be honest, I don’t even know how many carries, touchdowns or yards I have,” Whitehead said, “but I should have a passing touchdown.”

Whitehead entered Friday’s WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal against Indiana with 1,163 yards rushing on 74 carries and 10 receptions for 123 yards. He had scored 22 touchdowns and scored five ways — by run and reception, and on kick, punt and interception returns — and averaged 49 yards on his scoring plays.

The 6-foot, 175-pounder has made an array of dazzling plays, from hurdling a Penn Hills defender to scoring on runs of 70, 80 and 90 yards, as well as a 75-yard kick return, in the Warriors’ first-round victory over Laurel Highlands.

Perhaps his most impressive — and important — play came in the season finale against two-time defending WPIAL champion West Allegheny, when Whitehead came oh-so-close to throwing that touchdown pass.

When Central Valley called a halfback pass, Whitehead had to elude the grasp of one defender and spin away from another to throw a pass to quarterback John George at the goal line in the 28-17 win.

“He was in, but they said he was down,” Whitehead said. “That’s the only way I would like to score because that’s the only way I didn’t score yet.”

A four-year starter at cornerback rated a four-star prospect by Rivals.com, Whitehead never was the centerpiece of Central Valley’s offense.

He had only four touches (three carries for 13 yards and an 18-yard reception) in the WPIAL final loss to West Allegheny last year.

That led Central Valley coach Mark Lyons to evaluate whether the Warriors were taking advantage of Whitehead’s playmaking skills.

“We probably didn’t do a good job in that championship game getting him enough touches when you have that caliber of a player,” Lyons said. “He’s mature, he’s a lot stronger, he’s a lot faster — if you can believe that — and he wanted that extra load on him. He wanted to carry this football team. When we call his number, he’s always ready.

“You’re not going to sit here and say, ‘I expect him to do this. I expect him to put up those kind of numbers.’ We just knew he was a special player. We knew he had that kind of athleticism, that if you got him in open space special things were going to occur. It was our job as coaches to make sure we got him in good space.”

That Whitehead is playing like he’s from outer space has Pitt debating where to play him. Whitehead, who will enroll in January, said Panthers coach Paul Chryst has flirted with the possibility of getting him some touches.

“I’m going for defense, but coach told me I could play offense,” Whitehead said, “so I’m sort of stuck.”

As Lyons has learned, Whitehead’s potential might be as a cornerback — where he gets tips from his cousin, NFL All-Pro Darrelle Revis of Aliquippa — but that doesn’t mean he can’t score touchdowns in the meantime.

“He’s always had a deep-down-inside love of putting his hands on the ball,” Lyons said. “But he’s also known that playing defensive back was going to be his best chance to make it and get into a big-time college program.

“You’re not going to get any arguments from him if you ask him to get his hands on the ball. He does have a love for that.”

What Whitehead would love more than anything is to end his high school career by leading Central Valley to a WPIAL Class AAA championship.

“I just worry about this team. This is all my focus right now,” Whitehead said. “You only get this one time in your life. … Coming short every year and not being able to get the gold at the end, it hurts. It gives you the fuel to strive for the championship.”

With the ball in Whitehead’s hands, anything is possible.

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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