VANCOUVER — When the high school and college football calendar turns to December, the games have a way of transcending the ordinary on their way to becoming epic.
And when you’re a high school senior, it goes without saying that the stakes are magnified by 10.
On Saturday, when the B.C. AAA Subway Coastal championship final between Port Coquitlam’s Terry Fox Ravens and the G.W. Graham Grizzlies of Chilliwack kicks off at 7 p.m. as the finale to what has been an emotional re-start season, the intensity of one such senior will serve as the perfect example of what being given the chance to play the game again has meant to all of those who strapped on their helmets in 2021.
Terry Fox senior running back Gavin Whittingham, the Ravens’ quicksilver flash, like so many others at this time of the season, is playing the game at something less than his full health.
Yet as he looked ahead to the title game in the moments following last week’s win over Notre Dame, he was already espousing the virtues of mind over matter as his focus shifted to that of the Grizzlies.
“I am going all out, I am going all out,” he said. “I am playing through a little bit of an injury… my foot is a little sprained, but this is my last game.
“So I have my family bringing my crutches to the next game,” he continued. “I am going all out to the point where I am going to need crutches. This is my last high school game. I am playing the whole game. And we are all going to go all-out.”
Whittingham is a kid who has always worn his heart on his sleeve, and of course, despite his exuberance of youth, safety is always going to come first.
Yet over what has been an emotional re-start season for B.C. high school football, from its off-season uncertainties, to its B.C. Place controversy, to the mass flooding which led to a revamping of the Subway Bowl playoffs, he is that barometre which tells us that no matter where you play them or what you call them, these games will always mean a ton to those who play in them.
If you happened to be watching Terry Fox’s 27-14 semifinal win last Saturday over Notre Dame, then perhaps you saw the aforementioned Whittingham enter that zone of fumble-itis which every player dreads.
Yet to hear his heartfelt admissions around the topic in the post-game, and the mindset he had already adopted late in that game to make sure good habits carried over to this Saturday was, in a word, inspiring.
In the first-half last Saturday, Whittingham seemed well on his way towards rushing for his second touchdown of game when he fumbled the ball forward at the opposition 10-yard line.
Through an act of the football gods, the ball was scooped up by his teammate Renzel Arinaza at the goal line for a touchdown.
Then, in the second half, Whittingham, fumbled again, this time deep in his own end.
Once again, fortune smiled on the Ravens, who not only got a stop but mounted a drive which Whittingham capped by taking off on a blistering 20-yard run for his second touchdown of the game.
“That came out huge, but you know what?” he began afterwards, “I need to hold onto that ball. Personally, I never fumble. I’ve fumbled at most four times in my whole career… so having all these fumbles?”
As he spoke, it was readily apparent that Whittingham had learned his lessons about the importance of ball security.
“When I scored that last touchdown, I had two hands on the ball,” he continued, locking his arms across his body and holding that posture for the rest of his entire post-game conversation. “A late drive and I have a chance to break one. I was feeling a little pressure. But two hands on the ball. At all times. I am saying that to myself.”
Then comes a moment both serious and comical.
“I held my two hands on the ball until the ref wanted to get the ball from me after I scored,” explained Whittingham. “But I said ‘No, you are going to have to take it from me.’ I held my arms up with two hands on the ball. I said to him ‘Please take it from me because I am not letting go.’ And so he took it. He was laughing. He had to rip it out.”
Thank you for last weekend and for the one to come again this Saturday under the dome at B.C. Place.
And thank you for a season of B.C. high school football, which in the end, always seems to have a way of bringing out that little bit of Gavin Whittingham in all of us.
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