Senior College Football Columnist

OU walk-on star Whaley has dream job, but he still needs work


A 5-foot-10, 210-pound speedster, Whaley is a perfect fit for OU's up-tempo offense. (US Presswire)  
A 5-foot-10, 210-pound speedster, Whaley is a perfect fit for OU's up-tempo offense. (US Presswire)  

NORMAN, Okla. -- Dominique Whaley is looking for a job, any job. You get the impression that to complete the Oklahoma junior's desperation ensemble, all he needs is a street corner and a "Will Work For Food" sign.

"Hopefully, I can work a night job. That's my best option," he said, "even if I have to work later hours."

That makes Whaley no different than thousands of college students who subsist on Ramen noodles and are leveraged up to their Abercrombie and Fitches in college loans.

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"Loans? I already took out loans," Whaley said. "Might have to take out some more loans."

While funds are running low, Whaley is just ... running. One upshot of his financial situation makes him one of the more respected players on the nation's No. 1 team. The Oklahoma depth chart says he is the co-No. 1 tailback along with Brennan Clay for Saturday's game against No. 5 Florida State. The Sooner mindset for the moment believes that the walk-on transfer from an NAIA school is the best threat out of the backfield this week against the Seminoles.

"It would be hard to believe," said FSU legend Bobby Bowden when alerted to Whaley's situation. "Is that true?"

Incredibly, yes. When Oklahoma takes the field against the 'Noles, Whaley will have beaten out -- for now -- four- and five-star prospects including 2010 second-leading rusher Roy Finch. A breakout opener against Tulsa was nice but with full-ride teammates and loan payments both running him down, hunger is a relative word.

"Everybody on the team is actually hungry," said teammate Javon Harris. "For him as a player, individually, he is hungrier because he knows he's on that edge."

The edge, for example, of wondering about that next meal. The edge of desperately needing a scholarship that is still probably months away, if he gets it at all.

There is promise to his game but Whaley has played all of one contest at this level since transferring from Langston University in Oklahoma. The future ahead is full of angry Seminoles, Aggies, Longhorns and Tigers. Meanwhile, a stomach continues to growl.

"It's one game," Bob Stoops said curtly when asked of Whaley's scholarship possibilities, "against Tulsa."

Yeah, but what a game -- four rushing touchdowns and 131 yards against the Golden Hurricane in the opener. If there was a question mark on the loaded Sooners this season it was at tailback with the departure of career scoring leader and all-purpose runner DeMarco Murray. Given the chance, Whaley is cashing in on the buzz he created through two spring practices.

He has the body for Oklahoma's up-tempo offense that favors short, quick backs. Whaley is 5-foot-10, 210 pounds with a 4.4-second 40 time. Guys like that aren't supposed to slip through the cracks. They're supposed to be veterans, running through holes.

A walk-on starting for the nation's No. 1 team at the position Adrian Peterson and Billy Sims once held down? Preposterous. But not as unbelievable as the lengths Whaley has gone to get this far.

How incredibly fun is it, then, to play in an offense that runs 100 plays in any given game, an offense that has produced the nation's leading receiver (Ryan Broyles) and Heisman candidate quarterback (Landry Jones)?

"It's fun to play, period," Whaley said.

Bam, there's some perspective upside your head. Now for the back story. Whaley was born in Miami and grew up a Hurricanes fan. A brother favored Florida State. He's an army brat. Nothing unique there. Mother Damaris Hardy and stepdad Kelius Hardy have been stationed in Georgia, Texas, Germany, Oklahoma and Iraq.

Kelius Hardy played some arena football. Birth father Jeff Whaley calls every day from Miami. Dominique played with Harris while attending Lawton (Okla.) MacArthur High for two years becoming a team captain as a senior. But his only college opportunities -- here is where it gets good -- emerged at Langston and Emporia (Kan.) State.

The choice was easy.

"Kansas, a bunch of snow," Whaley said. "Langston was offering a full-ride academic scholarship."

After a so-so 2008 in which he didn't start at Langston, some of that scholarship money was withdrawn and Whaley couldn't afford school. For the next year he helped his grandmother take care of his brothers and sisters in Texas.

The mistake, he says now, was not going to any camps where he could be seen, while in high school. These are days when the process is so refined that kids are getting offers before they even start for their high school teams.

So after sitting out 2009, Whaley approached OU's Merv Johnson, the team's football operations director, about walking on in January 2010. Johnson, who once coached under Barry Switzer, knows talent. Who could it hurt giving a Lawton and Langston kid a chance?

"Never met him before, never really had heard about him," Johnson said. "He didn't bring any film with him."

Johnson said OU didn't bother to call Langston and may have called Lawton for a quick background check. Hey, the kid was only a walk-on.

"When we were in high school, they called him D-Dub," Harris said. "I should have called him 'Subway' since he worked there."

That's one way Whaley already has made money. There was a Subway, since torn down, literally across the street from Owen Field. Whaley went from making quick cuts in practices to overseeing cold cuts after them.

Obviously, there aren't many starting tailbacks at BCS schools trying to find after-school work. First, it's fairly impossible considering the academic and athletic work load. But Whaley is determined and is putting together a resume with the help of the school's career services department.

"Any means necessary," Whaley said of his job search. "I'm still working on a way to squeeze it into football. I don't qualify for work-study. I'm not exactly sure why."

The kid is sure his instant celebrity status makes him uncomfortable. "I'm not a big fan of [being around] a lot of people," Whaley said. "I like to keep to myself most of the time. It kind of feels better when you're not known and everybody's not staring at you and wanting to talk to you."

That's not going to work at this school. Out here on the plains there's nowhere to hide geographically on this flat campus. Any Sooner here is a celeb, but especially one who can relate to the typical junior scrounging up enough change for laundry money.

All of it makes Stoops look like a genius. During the offseason Oklahoma's coach spoke of the entitlement culture. Players have to be reminded that they haven't done anything until they've actually accomplished something.

Whaley was the antithesis ... until he wasn't. Remember, it's been one game.

"More [hard-working] than a guy like Adrian Peterson? No, that's not fair to say," Stoops said. "More than a guy like DeMarco Murray who you'd love to see every day [and] was absolutely invested, humble? He cared about his teammates and couldn't wait to practice.

"Dom's like that but those other guys have been good too. I haven't had prima donnas that are looking for something handed to them. Adrian was the hardest worker maybe we've ever had."

So while the standard has been set, Whaley's overall future remains uncertain. Getting that scholarship is a matter of numbers -- and locker room politics. There is nothing preventing Whaley from getting a scholarship right now. But what about a teammate who has been toiling in practice for years and never started?

Oklahoma first has to have a scholarship available. Stoops stays pretty close to the 85 limit and says he will wait until after this semester to make a decision.

"It could be all gone tomorrow," Whaley said, "nothing comes to you."

Until then, the nightshift awaits.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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