GIBSONVILLE — Shane Whitter prefers checkers, but he’s learning to love the chess-like strategy that goes into playing defensive football.
The linebacker at Burlington Williams High School is a Wake Forest commit who’s roughly halfway through his senior season, and he’s learning more and more as his high school days wind down. Whitter’s position coach with the Bulldogs is Brandon Spoon, a former North Carolina linebacker who was the Buffalo Bills’ starting middle linebacker for the 2001 season.
“I’m more of a checkers type of guy, but it is like a chess game, though. Every move you’ve got to make sure you have something for the next play,” Whitter said Friday night. “Coming into Williams as a freshman, I honestly didn’t know anything but just run to the ball.
“But being around (Spoon), now, from his perspective, I have a great knowledge of the game.”
Whitter’s knowledge was on display early Friday night in a game at Eastern Guilford. The 6-0, 230-pounder had four tackles on Eastern Guilford’s first six plays, making plays on a run up the middle, on two swing passes and on a slant.
The game was delayed halfway through the fourth quarter because of lightning, and was set to resume Monday. Eastern Guilford was leading 35-7 — Whitter’s early impact was eventually stemmed by a couple of long passes, while the Bulldogs scuffled along offensively.
Whitter is an offensive contributor, too, and had a 26-yard diving touchdown catch negated by a holding penalty early in the second half.
“To me, I was born a defensive player. But offense is just another way to be out there and give it my all,” he said.
Whitter was one of the earliest of Wake Forest’s 17 commits, and his recruiting profile at that point — early March — wasn’t one that jumped off the page.
In late April, though, Whitter’s combine testing numbers at The Opening — a 4.51-second 40-yard dash, a 4.41-second shuttle time and a 34½-inch vertical — vaulted him into elevated status as a recruit.
For coaches at Williams, though, that was just the confirmation of the jump Whitter made entering his junior season — when he had 95 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception.
“He’s always been a great athlete, but he came in his junior year — he was just huge. I mean, he was strong and he moved so well and the things he did defensively, he really separated himself last year,” Spoon said. “Last year was a big leap for him, and he just took off. How smart he was on the field, his preparation for the game and just his work ethic in the offseason was eye-opening.”
It’s also continued to rise since then.
Spoon was recruited by and played for two seasons under Mack Brown during Brown’s first stint at North Carolina. He cited something he picked up from Brown — to “coach everybody hard, but I don’t coach everybody the same” — when asked how advanced his tutelage of Whitter has been.
“I teach Shane more. You simplify a lot of things, you try to condense some of the defensive stuff that we do, just for the masses, but with Shane, I dissect it a little bit more. I make him understand why, I want him to understand what we’re doing,” Spoon said. “Football is a chess game, and I want him to understand that part of it. And he’s done a great job. He’s really, really good with that.”
Whitter plans to enroll early and said he’ll be at the Deacons’ next game, which is Oct. 12 against Louisville. Wake Forest figures to be carrying a national ranking coming into that game, as the Deacons cracked the Coaches Poll last week and the Associated Press poll this past weekend.
“I went last week against Elon — most of their games, they’ve been on Fridays. I wanted to go to the UNC one, I heard it was good,” Whitter said. “The Louisville game, I’m definitely going to be there.”
And he’ll likely understand a lot of what’s going on for the Deacons’ defense.