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Football: Ben Whitlock shoulders a heavy load at quarterback for Denmark
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Denmark quarterback Ben Whitlock targets Teddy Davenport with a throw during the Danes' game against West Hall on Sept. 28, 2018 at Denmark High School. - photo by Ian Frazer

Denmark quarterback Ben Whitlock doesn’t do a whole lot of talking.

It’s on the football field where he prefers to make the most noise, like he did in Denmark’s first region game, against Chestatee. He connected with star receiver Ze’Vian Capers for five of his season-high six touchdown passes in that game. One of those passes, a pinpoint throw to the back of the end zone that only Capers could catch, has been his favorite throw of the year. For Whitlock, it was all too easy.

“That team one-on-oned him and if you're going to one-on-one him, it's just not smart,” he said.

To Danes head coach Terry Crowder, Whitlock may as well be two different people – a more subdued student in the hallways and a confident, vocal leader on the football field. Just a year removed from playing JV ball at South Forsyth, Whitlock, a junior, is one of the more prolific passers in the state. He’s totaled 1,865 passing yards through six games, which easily leads the county, to go with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. On a team with no seniors and tons of inexperience, Whitlock’s performance often determines that of the whole team, and Crowder is not shy in emphasizing how important he is.

“We can't win if Ben don't play good,” Crowder said. “Everybody else can have a bad game and we still got a chance to win, but if Ben plays bad, we can't win. He makes every run call, every pass protection call, he has three different reads every snap of the ball. There's RPO option stuff that we do. There's just so much for him every game.”

Whitlock’s father is a former baseball player at Southern Mississippi. Ben has followed in his footsteps somewhat as a pitcher, but his main focus has been on football, which he’s played since he was in first grade. He’s played quarterback since sixth grade, and it’s been a natural fit.

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Denmark quarterback Ben Whitlock looks downfield during the Danes' game against Forsyth Central on Sept. 7, 2018 at Forsyth Central High School. - photo by Ben Hendren

He continued to play quarterback into his freshman season at South Forsyth, which was cut short due to a collarbone injury. To this day, his left arm is weaker than his right, but the injury never affected his throwing.

“When I broke it, I used to do curls and stuff with my right arm, which I probably shouldn’t have done,” Whitlock said. “(During bench presses) the left arm's always down and the right one's up there.” 

Whitlock saw plenty of action at South during his sophomore year, but not at the varsity level. When he arrived at Denmark, it didn’t take long for the newly assembled coaching staff to find out who their starting quarterback would be.

“We looked at JV film and we knew that Ben could throw,” Crowder said. “It was a pleasant surprise to see how well he could throw and how quickly he (caught) on to what we're doing. You don’t always have a quarterback who can make all the throws.”

There was a lot for Whitlock to do in preparation to be Denmark’s first-ever starting quarterback. He needed to build a rapport with receivers he’d never thrown to before, including Capers, who only played varsity. His footwork needed to get better, as did his presnap reads, not forcing throws and trusting his coaches. Those things, along with getting acclimated to Denmark’s offensive system, are still a work in progress, even with all the success he’s had so far.

“You have to slow the game down,” Whitlock said. “At South you kind of stuck to one side and if there was no one there, you run. Here, you look all over the field, and there's always a checkdown route.

“It's a lot different. The game is a lot faster, but it's definitely a lot better.”

Beyond the football knowledge, Whitlock has had to learn to be a leader. Finding team leaders is something Crowder admits has been a struggle, hibrn how young the Danes are. For Whitlock, that process started with learning not to shift the blame when things go wrong.

“I remember (offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Rodney) Satterfield at one point getting on Ben about pointing the finger maybe at some of the receivers instead of himself,” Crowder said. “Coach Satterfield was saying, ‘This is on you. You've got to take the blame for everything. This offense works around you, good, bad or indifferent.’ I've seen Ben mature in that way.”

With games against Blessed Trinity, Marist and Flowery Branch all on the horizon for the Danes, Whitlock’s path isn’t getting any easier. Still, he’s pleased with the year he and his team have had so far, even if they’re not satisfied yet.

“It's putting us on the map, kind of showing people that we have the talent,” Whitlock said. “It's nice.”