New Kansas University football coach Mark Mangino probably doesn't expect Bill Whittemore to be the next Josh Heupel, but even Mangino can't overlook the similarities.
Heupel was considered too small for most big-time colleges, played one season at a four-year university, transferred to a junior college and finally landed at Oklahoma, where he led the Sooners running Mangino's pro-style offense to a national championship and finished runner-up in the 2000 Heisman Trophy race.
Whittemore was considered too small for most big-time colleges, played one season at a four-year university, transferred to a junior college and will land at Kansas University, where he'll get a shot at the starting quarterback job in Mangino's pro-style offense as the Jayhawks try to climb out of the Big 12 basement.
"Coach Mangino and I talked a lot about Josh Heupel," said Fort Scott Community College coach Kevin Verdugo, a former KU and Colorado State quarterback who coached Whittemore last season. "(Heupel) was a kid who didn't get a lot of offers from other schools, but Oklahoma targeted him and went after him hard.
"Coach Mangino targeted (Whittemore) and went after him hard. I think he's their guy."
Their guy is coming off a monster season, even though it was abbreviated to eight games by a separated throwing shoulder.
Whittemore a 6-foot-1, 195-pounder from Nashville who was the Class 5A Tennessee Mr. Football as a high school senior threw for 2,082 yards with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions last year at Fort Scott CC. He completed 59 percent of his passes and rushed for six TDs, including a 55-yarder.
"He's just a great competitor," Verdugo said. "He's very intelligent. He has great composure. He's very mobile for a quarterback, probably more so than you would guess when you first see him. Can he start next year for KU? Without a doubt. He's very intelligent. He makes good decisions."
In retrospect, he didn't make the best decision as a senior at Brentwood (Tenn.) High, when he decided to play at NCAA Div. I-AA Tennessee-Martin.
Whittemore red-shirted his first season, and UTM fired its coach. The replacement installed a triple-option offense, and Whittemore decided to give the new playbook a try.
"I tried it, but I could see it wasn't working out," Whittemore said.
Whittemore started as a red-shirt freshman. He completed just 19 of 51 passes (37.3 percent) for 282 yards, with a touchdown and four interceptions. He also rushed 39 times for 62 yards and two TDs.
"I got on the Internet and started looking at schools that needed a quarterback," Whittemore said. "I visited a couple of schools and met coach Verdugo and liked him. I thought this was the best place for me."
Though he played in just eight games at Fort Scott, Whittemore was named the Jayhawk Conference MVP and was the only unanimous pick to the All-Jayhawk Conference offensive team.
"I learned a lot in a year," Whittemore said. "When I went to Martin, I learned a lot about the option. I didn't learn much about offenses. I learned about pulling or pitching. Coach Verdugo brought in a pro-style offense and got me learning about defenses, picking up defenses and hot routes."
Major colleges didn't exactly beat down Verdugo's door, though, and Whittemore who had received early interest from the likes of Colorado State, Maryland, Toledo and Purdue was all but ready to accept one of the few remaining scholarship offers from New Mexico.
Then Mangino was hired at KU and made his late push. It was enough for Whittemore, who committed to KU and since has signed his Kansas letter of intent without having seen the KU campus.
"They came on late, just before the dead period," Whittemore said. "But I liked coach Mangino from the get-go. We got off on a good foot. I hear he's the man for the job. He did a good job at OU and at Kansas State before that."
Whittemore will visit Lawrence for the first time sometime this week, then he'll move here on Jan. 14.
He expects his shoulder will be healed enough for him to make a run at the starting quarterback job this spring.
"It's coming along, but it's a long recovery," Whittemore said. "They said I should be throwing this month. I don't know if it'll hold me back this spring or not, but it's something where once it's healed, it's healed. I can't wait to jump right in."