Chasing a playoff dream
Charles Prince, Hartselle Enquirer
In the spring of 2001, a Hartselle eighth grader had to choose between two sports he really loved-baseball and soccer. He couldn't play them both because they're played during the same season. However, instead of choosing to stay with baseball and perhaps play for the Hartselle varsity one day, Patrick Whatley decided to give up his time on the diamond and pursue his first athletic love, soccer.
"I really liked both sports," Whatley said, "but I had to make up my mind to play only one. It was too much to try and play both. I decided to stick with the one I had the most fun with."
Whatley had also played basketball in junior high, but he gave it up also to concentrate on soccer and the fourth sport he was playing, football.
Whatley, now a senior forward on the Tigers' soccer team, feels his decision may pay off with a state playoff appearance. Should Hartselle advance to the postseason this year, it would mark only the second time the Tigers have advanced to the playoffs since the program started.
Whatley has endured his share of injuries to be part of a group with a shot at the postseason.
He has suffered two torn meniscuses and last Thursday against Brewer he suffered a concussion, which kept him out of the Tigers next two games.
On a corner-kick late in the opening half, Whatley moved in toward the goal to get himself in position to put the ball in the net on a header. As the ball was kicked toward Whatley he jumped. Suddenly he was elbowed in the head and tumbled to the ground, where he hit headfirst.
Whatley wanted to continue playing in the contest, but his vision was blurred and he was experiencing twitches. A trip to the emergency room revealed a concussion.
When Whatley was a sophomore, his season was cut short by a torn meniscus in his right knee.
Then last season, while kicking for the Tiger football team, Whatley tore the very same cartilage in his knee again. He played on a few more games after the injury, but the damage became worse and finally Whatley had to end his season and turn the kicking duties over to Ray Canafax.
However, instead of concluding his soccer career was over, he rehabbed the leg and felt his knee was as good as ever by the beginning February.
With Whatley playing along with 11 other seniors, the Tigers are one game away from qualifying for the state playoffs. According to Whatley, the success of this year's team is due to the Tigers performance in last season's Morgan County Tournament.
"It was a big embarrassment for the team," Whatley said. "We didn't play well and we didn't score one goal. We got shut out three times. I think it made us (the seniors) more determined to go out on a winning note this year."
That determination included the seniors meeting for practice games in Flint last fall on Tuesday's after Whatley was done with football practice for the day.
"We (the seniors) decided this year would be different," Whatley said. "We wanted to make a showing that would make our parents proud."
The Tigers have won five of 10 games this season after posting only six wins in 2004.
One of the season's highlights for Whatley and the Tigers are Hartselle's two victories over the Muscle Shoals Trojans.
"Those wins are really big," Whatley said. "Their players are big trash talkers and the fans always blame their losses on the refs or something else. After we beat them the first time on a penalty kick in overtime, after they fouled one of our players. A women wearing Muscle Shoals colors came up to me in the parking lot afterwards and asked if we enjoyed winning by cheating."
The second game was decided without the benefit of a controversial call because Whatley and teammate Nick Galloway combined on the game-winning goal in regulation.
Whatley made a crossing pass from the corner to Galloway as he raced toward the goal and scored on a header.
Whatley feels part of the reason the Tigers are within one win of a playoff spot after Monday's win over Athens is the camaraderie of the players on this year's squad.
"This team is like a family of brothers," Whatley said. "We really get along and a lot of us hang out together after practice."
According to Whatley, even though the Tigers hope to redeem themselves in this year's county tournament, it's not the final measure of success for this Hartselle team.
"Playing better in the county tournament would be big," Whatley said. "Playing well against Austin, because they are so go year-in and year-out, would earn us some respect. But reaching the state playoffs would definitely be a bigger highlight."
Whatley, who wants to attend either Mississippi State University or Spring Hill College in Mobile after graduating, hopes to become a sports writer for magazines and a church youth leader one day.
First, however, he wants to be part of a state playoff team at Hartselle.
"This is something we've worked for now for four years," Whatley said.
"You can see our work is finally starting to pay off. The ultimate payoff would be a postseason game."