Lynden coach Curt Kramme and his coaching staff realize every year during spring practice they have an unknown player who’s talent is waiting to be unearthed. He’s identified and the following fall becomes a key contributor.
Without a doubt, that honor this year belongs to 5-foot-11, 165-pound senior wide receiver and defensive back Jonathan Whetnall.
Whetnall, a lifelong basketball player, never was supposed to play football, not until his credibility came into question after a commitment he made years ago with senior teammate and good friend Clark Hazlett actually materialized.
Whetnall, who transferred from Squalicum midway through his sophomore year, became friends with Hazlett before moving. Whetnall promised Hazlett if he ever joined him at Lynden, he’d come out for football.
“All the guys out here play football, so I’d be like one of the only ones (who doesn’t),” Whetnall said. “I always told (Hazlett) I’d play if he came out here, which I never thought would happen. I basically got talked into it, and I joined a week before spring started, not knowing anything.”
Whetnall’s ability to integrate himself so thoroughly into Lynden’s state powerhouse program isn’t unprecedented, Kramme said, but it’s awfully impressive for a player who’s last stint on a football field was third grade flag football.
The football-playing rookie has been the Lions’ biggest surprise this fall, and as a two-way starter he’ll will be relied on heavily when Lynden faces Hockinson during the Class 2A State Playoffs quarterfinal round at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22, at Civic Stadium.
Whetnall has 39 receptions, seven touchdowns and his 712 receiving yards rank third most in the Northwest Conference. He’s also been a fixture at cornerback. And during Lynden’s state opening-round win over River Ridge last week, Whetnall was paramount, setting up the Lions’ first score with a 56-yard reception before scoring on a 72-yard catch-and-run during Lynden’s next possession.
And to think, last year Whetnall was in the stands watching Lynden’s state-title run.
“We are just happy he decided to come out, and he’s very much a big player on a very successful team so far,” Kramme said.
By no means has making such an impact on Lynden been easy. Whetnall’s had to earn the coach’s trust and prove himself to his teammates. Kramme said Whetnall’s measurables, his speed, quickness and jumping ability, gave him a chance to succeed. But his true test came when he first strapped his pads on.
Taking a hit or deciding to deliver one is now an afterthought, but even though Whetnall fronted as if he wasn’t intimidated of the physicality football demands, he admitted apprehension at first.
“That’s what all the guys were telling me, that I’d be nervous,” Whetnall said. “I’d have to show the coaches that I wasn’t, so even though I was, I had to pretend that I wasn’t. But now I’m totally fine.”
Whetnall’s proving ground came when the Lions ventured to Cheney during the summer for Eastern Washington University football camp. The multi-day stay, Kramme said, features top-caliber competition and is known for separating the contenders from the pretenders, giving the coaching staff a clearer idea of who some of the top guys are.
Whetnall flourished at wide receiver.
“You can’t hide over there,” Kramme said. “He became apparent. What we didn’t know was if he could handle the physical nature of football, and after Eastern camp it became pretty clear that he could, and he’s done nothing to disappoint since.”
On offense, the Lynden senior has given quarterback Sterling Somers that always-important third option. Jordan Wittenberg’s and Scooter Hastings’ skill is well-documented. But if defenses choose to double team one of them or even play their third best defensive back on Whetnall, Kramme likes his chances.
Whetnall also needed to overcome a learning curve, and Kramme raved about his coachability, calling him somewhat of a “football junkie.” By coming to Kramme with questions and talking to his fellow receivers, Whetnall quickly grasped the Lions’ offensive concepts.
As productive as Whetnall’s been on offense, though, his true arriving moment came on the defensive side Week 2 against Lakewood. He intercepted the Cougars three times and also caught a touchdown pass.
“I figured, ‘Hey, this is fun,’” Whetnall said. “I can actually do something.”
Much can change in a year, and even though Whetnall enjoyed watching the Lions win their fifth state title in six years last fall, he’s more thrilled to be contributing this season, and surely there aren’t any players or coaches who’d disagree.
“It’s kind of weird,” Whetnall said, “because last year I thought it was so cool, like actually wish I’d played. Then I figured I never would. Just watching how Lynden always consistently wins, and now being a part of that, it’s just kind of cool.”