[ UH FOOTBALL ]
this backup QB
by his title
Hawaii's coaches and players
say Whieldon is ready
and able to lead the Warriors
He comes across like Richie Cunningham, but his position coach says he's more Huck Finn.
He's unfailingly polite with casual acquaintances, but his roommate and best friend in Hawaii says he is not always Mr. Perfect.
To judge Jason Whieldon without really knowing him is a mistake. If Appalachian State makes that error Saturday night at Aloha Stadium, Whieldon's Hawaii teammates believe, their one-game starting quarterback will torch the Mountaineers ... and maybe he will anyway.
Whieldon doesn't look much like a quarterback, or even a football player at all. Though he is listed at 6 feet and 191 pounds, Whieldon appeared short and wiry after a two-hour practice last week, the day after UH coach June Jones said the senior from Orange, Calif., would start for suspended Tim Chang.
What Whieldon lacks in physical presence, he makes up for in aggressiveness and a knack for doing the right thing at the right time.
"He's pretty smart," said sophomore quarterback Jeff Rhode, who moves up to No. 2 QB behind Whieldon. "He gets the ball out quickly and makes good decisions. That's all you need to be a good quarterback. We all can throw it, that's why we're here. He's small, but it doesn't matter. Being smart and making good decisions matters."
Whieldon had a big decision to make last fall, and it had nothing to do with passing or running with a football.
Less than a week after Whieldon passed for two short touchdowns against Brigham Young (Chang had an injured finger, so Whieldon played quarterback in short yardage and other non-shotgun situations), Whieldon left the Warriors and Hawaii to return home.
Whieldon still won't talk about why he left, but the few UH coaches and players who know what happened back up Whieldon in saying it was a legitimate personal issue that required him to leave. At the time, it seemed doubtful he would return.
"I always wanted to come back," said Whieldon, who returned two weeks later. "I wasn't sure if I could. When I came back everyone was real nice. I wish it never happened and I try not to think about that."
When he returned to the Warriors, Whieldon dropped behind Shawn Withy-Allen to third string, and played in only two games the rest of the season, mopping up.
But whatever status he might have lost with staff and teammates because of his midseason exodus was regained last spring, when he clearly won the No. 2 job behind Chang.
"Hopefully I did get anyone back I lost, but I can't really speak for them," Whieldon said. "I just go out there and bust my butt. I'm kind of excited. It's kind of a trip. One day I'm a backup. Today, I play."
He was in a similar situation a year ago. It looked like Whieldon was going to start the season as UH's quarterback, because Chang injured the pinkie on his right (throwing) hand about a week before the opener. Whieldon was all set to go, but Chang recovered quickly enough to start the opener.
Of course Whieldon was disappointed, but he hid it well. This time he knows nothing -- short of an injury to himself this week -- will keep him from taking the opening snap of UH's season.
"I'm ready. Ready as can be," Whieldon said. "We still have another week of game preparation. Hopefully we'll know their defense and know what they're going to do and be ready. There's a little bit of pressure, but that's the name of the game."
Hawaii coach June Jones said he has supreme confidence in Whieldon, a player he tried to recruit out of high school and pursued again out of Saddleback (Calif.) College two years ago.
"He's always been our kind of guy. He has a knack for making plays and moving the ball downfield," Jones said.
But Jones also said everyone understands the job is Whieldon's for one week -- even if he passes for 500 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. Chang, who is being hyped for Heisman Trophy consideration, will start the second game at USC.
"I don't think anyone likes to be the backup," said Whieldon, who completed eight of 18 passes for 92 yards and three touchdowns in four games last year. "But I'll make the most of this opportunity and then be ready to go the next time."
Quarterbacks coach Dan Morrison said UH fans will appreciate Whieldon's combination of grit and polish.
"He's like a Huck Finn. He's got a little bit of rascal in him and he's fearless," Morrison said. "But he's also a very accomplished quarterback, so it's a nice opportunity for him to get on the field. It really only helps us, it puts him in a situation where instead of having just a few snaps like he had the first couple of games last year, now he'll have 55 to 75 snaps. It's going to make him better, it's going make us better, it makes Timmy better."
Whieldon's positive attitude is a constant at Hawaii practices. But the Warrior teammate who knows him best, senior wide receiver Jeremiah Cockheran, laughed when told of Whieldon's squeaky-clean image.
"He's a good guy with a good heart and everything, but ... at times, just like anybody else ... ," said Cockheran, Whieldon's housemate.
Cockheran also said anyone questioning Whieldon's resolve and mental toughness would be mistaken, too.
"They are way wrong," he said. "Jason had family problems back home, and he had to go take care of that. Anyone should be able to understand that. He's committed to this team and he's worked hard. Now he's going to be able to step in at a time we need him and I think he's going to shine."
Jason Whieldon, above, will be the first Hawaii quarterback other than Tim Chang or Nick Rolovich to start in 39 games and three full seasons, since Dan Robinson in the 1999 Oahu Bowl. Here's how Chang and Rolovich did in their debuts as starters:
Sept. 30, 2000: At Aloha Stadium, 24-14 loss to Tulsa, 31-48-2, 313 yards, 1 TD
Sept. 4, 2000: At Aloha Stadium, 45-20 loss to Portland State, 28-57-2, 367 yards, 2 TDs