Disappointment and a crushed-up water bottle were the beginnings of Casey Whitley’s football career.
Whitley, who will be a junior at Oak Park-River Forest this fall, had played soccer since he was 3 and took the news hard when he learned he didn’t make the OPRF varsity soccer team as a freshman.
“I had high hopes of playing four years of varsity soccer,” Whitley said. “When [Huskies coach Paul Wright] told me I didn’t make it, I was devastated because it was everything I worked for my entire life.”
However, Wright sent off Whitely with some advice. The coach was impressed by Whitley’s leg strength and suggested he try football as a kicker.
Whitley wasn’t interested at first. But following a day of sitting around doing nothing after getting the unexpected news, he headed to Concordia University in River Forest the next morning.
“I went there with a youth-sized football and no real holder,” Whitley said. “I used a water bottle and was hitting 30-yard field goals. I thought maybe this is something I should try. I never tried kicking whatsoever and I didn’t think it would come as naturally as it did. I was shocked, pleased and impressed.”
Whitley collected his battered water bottle and decided to give football a shot. The following year he was named the placekicker for OPRF’s undefeated sophomore team last season.
Whitley’s mother, Cindy Kosydor of Oak Park, said it’s not the first time her son made the most of a new opportunity.
She recalls Whitley trying out a couple years ago for The Second City youth group with no prior comedic experience and earned the opportunity to perform.
“He’s always been a goal-oriented, driven kid,” Kosydor said. “He was inspired by the new change in his life [to football]. That is his character. I’ve always been impressed that he has the nerve to put himself out there. It’s in his nature.”
Kicking quickly became a passion for Whitley 16. and he enrolled in a USA Football Regional Development Camp. While one of the locations was in Chicago, kickers were excluded because of the temperamental weather. So Whitley and his mother flew to Georgia for an April 26-27 camp at Lassiter High School, 15 miles northwest of Atlanta.
The program, whose instructors include college coaches and former NFL coaches and players, provides athletes with the opportunity to develop while being evaluated for a chance to play on the U.S. National Team.
“I didn’t have high of expectations because I had only been kicking for nine months,” Whitley said. “Going into the camp I wanted to learn more about my craft because I mostly taught myself everything. I wanted to be exposed to what it would take to eventually be a college kicker.
“I learned technical parts of kicking, like your form has to be perfect, how high to lift your leg on follow throughs and keeping your head down.”
Whitley left not knowing where he stood, but received an e-mail a month later informing him that he had been picked for the national team.
He participated in the Under-18 National Development Games July 14-19 at Texas A&M. The highlight for Whitley was when he kicked the game-winning extra point with two minutes left in the final game.
“It was great to be playing for our country and have ‘USA’ on your jersey instead of ‘OPRF Huskies,’ ” Whitley said. “There was so much talent from across the nation and everywhere you looked was the next big college or NFL player. There was a lot of pressure to do well and it was amazing to learn from so many people.”
Whitley, who has kicked a 52-yard field goal in practice, hopes to do well enough in his relatively new endeavor to eventually earn a scholarship to an Division I school, but first wants to be OPRF’s starting kicker this fall. He’s competing with senior Sebastian Medala, who held the job last season.
“Having a quality kicker provides teams with a tremendous advantage,” OPRF coach John Hoerster said. “Casey has worked tremendously hard and has been very committed to improving his kicking skills since he has made his transition into football.”