It was just a year ago when Alonzo Whaley was called into Bo Pelini’s office. A talk was necessary.
A few days prior, Whaley had been notified he wouldn’t be part of Nebraska’s 105-man roster for fall camp. This can be tough on any player, but it especially comes like a mule kick to the gut to an upperclassmen on scholarship.
Now, Nebraska’s head coach had a question for the linebacker.
"He downright asked me if I wanted to be here. And he gave me an opportunity, if I wanted to get out, to transfer,” Whaley said.
Do you want to be here?
As much as he previously failed in demonstrating a clear answer to that question, Whaley didn’t struggle in that moment to reply.
The linebacker looked Pelini in the eyes and told him yes.
Words are one thing, actions another.
“You’re going to have to show me,” Pelini told him. “You’re going to have to prove you want to be here.”
Without getting into specifics, Whaley said his priorities had gotten out of line.
“I was doing it backwards,” he said. “I was thinking that if I took care of football I didn’t have to worry about everything.”
“It was nothing bad, it was nothing criminal,” said linebackers coach Ross Els. “He just kept showing up on lists, little things after little things. You couldn’t count on him. And we just said, ‘Hey, we can’t count on you.’ ”
That can be tough when you don't like what's looking back.
“It really made me realize that this is not promised because it can be taken away just like that,” Whaley said. “And I was in a position thinking that, ‘Oh, I’m a scholarship player, I’ll figure it out. I’ll eventually come around.’ I also made the mistake by not criticizing myself, (and instead) saying, ‘Oh, he’s against me, she’s against me, they’re against me,’ instead of looking at myself and seeing what I needed to fix.”
The fix-it-process began.
Whaley focused on his religious faith and started thinking about putting things in his life in the right order.
He worked harder in the classroom. It showed in his grades.
Football? He played last year. Not a ton. But he played in every game. Had 11 tackles.
Coaches never came up to Whaley and talked about his transformation, but then, that made sense.
"You know what that tells me, is that's what they expected from me,” Whaley said. “It's not a surprise because they knew I had it all along and that's their job, to get the best out of me."
But it was clear coaches had recognized Whaley’s efforts when he was presented with a blackshirt in the days before the Iowa game.
And during this past offseason, he was named to the Unity Council, a clear sign that he is seen as one of the team leaders heading into this 2012 campaign.
“He’s such a joy to have around,” Els said. “And he’s such a good leader to the young guys. And the thing I like about him is he can take these young guys aside and go, ‘Hey, I’ve been where you are … and it almost lost me a scholarship. I turned my life around and if you just continue to work hard, good things are going to happen.’ He teaches those kids, he gets on them. He’s a great leader, he really is.”
Just a year after not participating in these camp practices, he’s currently considered the No. 1 WILL linebacker. A footnote last August, reporters circled around him after Monday's practice to ask about his trip through these past 12 months.
It’s a journey Whaley’s sure he took for a reason.
“I truly believe it was part of God’s process was to build me up to this moment, to take me through whatever I needed to get through to be on this big stage,” he said. “And now I have to glorify him and show people what it’s like to glorify God. That’s why I think I’m in this position.”
As for the football?
He’s a lead candidate to start now. But the native of Madisonville, Texas, knows depth chart projections in early August guarantee you nothing.
There are plenty of hungry young dudes behind him with talent — David Santos and Zaire Anderson come to mind.
Whaley knows they’re eager, and he’s glad they are.
“I do my best to try to coach them up,” Whaley said. “It’s not my job to just turn my back and walk away from them just because they’re competition. Also, I have to coach them up. It helps me sharpen my game. Hey, I’m getting pushed. Competition, you gotta love it.”
Whaley has found the answers off the field. Now can he find them on it?
One year left to seize the moment.
How’s that feel?
“No pressure now,” he said. “Watch out now.”
He’s smiling as he says it.
This is the fun part.
Lessons learned. Burdens lifted. Watch out now.