Move from safety to WR has been good for Mesa’s Whaley
It’s not unusual for a college football player to switch positions, but it usually happens long before his final year of eligibility.
Colorado Mesa University senior Tanner Whaley, though, has made that move and become a big-play option for the Mavericks.
“He’s very versatile,” Mesa coach Joe Ramunno said. “He’s been dinged up a little bit, but he gives us good speed on the outside. He’s a team guy. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him.
“He’s an athletic guy and can get himself in open field. He’s good in open space. I think he helps us out more offensively with his leadership.”
Whaley was a fixture at safety the past two years and started last fall, but moved to wide receiver in the spring with the change to the spread offense.
The Palisade High School graduate gives the Mavericks a big-play weapon they’ve struggled to find in recent years. He has 14 catches for 270 yards in four games. He averages 19.3 yards per catch and has a long of 75 yards.
He was a big target for redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Henderson last week, catching three passes for 140 yards as Mesa’s offense produced a season-high 374 yards passing and 490 yards in total offense.
The two look to give the Mavericks a spark again Saturday in the Mavs’ homecoming game against Western New Mexico at 1 p.m. at Stocker Stadium.
Whaley will be playing for the fourth consecutive week even though he might have a broken bone in a foot.
Whaley (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) spent the summer running routes and catching passes in preparation for the season.
“I was running routes with Robert (Felberg) this summer, planted my foot and felt a sharp, burning pain,” Whaley said. “It was like a hot spot on my bone. My nerves were inflamed.”
Whaley needs an MRI to see if the injury will require surgery, but he’s holding off on that so he can play. He got a cortisone shot earlier this week to help dull the pain.
Although he played wide receiver in high school, the Bulldogs didn’t utilize the position anything like Mesa does with the spread offense.
Whaley, though, was eager to learn under the tutelage of former NFL receiver Donnie Holmes, the Mavericks’ wide receivers coach.
“I felt like a newborn baby,” Whaley said. “You know what I’m saying? My eyes were wide open and I was listening to everything he said. I was ready to learn.
“There is a realm of the game you don’t know is there. You know there are more things a receiver can do against you in college, but a lot of what Coach Holmes teaches is the NFL system and reading every play before the snap and after the snap.”
The transition nearly didn’t happen.
Ramunno considered moving him back to defense when returning safety Mac Alexander was lost to a career-ending injury, but the coaches decided Whaley’s leadership was needed with the young wide receivers.
“When we lost Mac, we talked about bringing him back over, but we felt like it was a good fit for him on offense,” Ramunno said. “We had Evan (Altheide) and some other young guys, so we thought we’d be all right.”
Whaley believes playing defensive back has helped him in the transition to receiver.
“It’s been a good transition because of the coaching I’ve had and coming from DB, you’ve seen the defense and know how they are supposed to operate,” Whaley said. “It takes repetition and repetition. My footwork was subpar at first, but I’ve been working hard, keeping my eyes and ears peeled on Coach Holmes.”