Carson Whitehead has built quite a reputation on and off the high school gridiron.
In fact, Harlan County Coach Tom Larkey has said many times that “I wish I had 11 of him. I could fill every position on the team.”
Whitehead earned this reputation playing on both sides of the ball – fullback, halfback, tailback and guard on offense and linebacker on defense. While the accolades are beginning to roll in for his athletic talent, he also is recognized as a topnotch student at HCHS, earning a 4.0 grade point average and a good ACT score. He is in the gifted leadership program and a member of the National Honor Society and the Beta Club.
To understand his dedication and determination to any task at hand, one needs to look no further than his family’s rural Harlan County roots – roots that demand hard work. His father, also named Carson, said when his son had a bad game, which was seldom, if ever, he told him he would need to go split more firewood. You see, those family roots run deep into Pine Mountain where hard, physical labor is not only a way of life, but is expected. Carson splits firewood most days, even during football season. This past summer he broke a mule in gardening the old fashioned way.
Carson’s dad recalls his son splitting wood at an early age, and he liked doing it. “Like most kids, he would impersonate (his dad.) The more he did it, the stronger he got.” He said splitting wood works every muscle in the upper body.
“This is how my dad raised me. That is what we did for a living,” said his father, who works every day in the coal mines and who has successfully instilled in his son the “values” of hard work and respect. “If you work hard you will gain respect. I have taught him to always respect who he works for. That is the reason he does good on the football field. He respects the coaches.”
The younger Whitehead agrees, saying, “My dad has always told me that no matter what I do, to go out and do my best and be proud of that.”
In four years of playing football, he recalls only having to miss two practices.
Carson’s day is pretty intense by most standards. He gets up early, goes to school all day, goes to football practice, goes home and does a host of chores, including chopping those massive amounts of firewood. Then, he turns back to his academics, studying for the next day of school. Before going to bed, he finds time for film study to learn all he can about the upcoming opponent. He likes to hunt and fish when time allows.
Starting at HCHS all four seasons, when Carson takes to the field Friday night, he will already have some impressive stats. He leads the Black Bears with 991 yards and 12 touchdowns on 137 carries. Leading in what is often referred to as the “filthy animal defense” he has 113 tackles, with 39 of those being solo tackles. He has recovered a fumble too. He has led the Black Bears in tackles for three straight seasons and has amassed 528 total tackles, nine fumble recoveries and one interception.
He describes his career as having been “kind of like a roller coaster ride. We’ve had our ups and downs. More ups than downs. There are games I wish we had won and there are games I’m surprised we won.”
He recalls being disappointed his freshman year, losing to regional rival Pulaski County in the season opener. However, the emotional high that came with the playoff win over the same team is something he will remember for many years to come, and is possibly one of his most memorable games. “We beat them after they killed us at the beginning of the year. That was a pretty emotional experience,” he recalled. He recalls being “like shell shocked” as a freshman when the coaching staff started him for the first time on defense against Powell Valley. “I am extremely competitive,” he says, with a slight smile. “I hate losing more than anything. It doesn’t matter if I am playing a game of monopoly with my grandma, I’m not going to let her win. “
He has been fortunate to avoid injuries during his career. “I’ve not had an injury that put me out for a long period of time. If I’m injured, then I am probably really injured, down for the count.”
Whitehead takes fitness “very seriously” by working hard in the weight room and always “striving to be the strongest person in there.” He holds many weightlifting honors earned at various competitions.
Larkey says Whithead is going “to make some college coach a dream player … I have coached a lot of good players in my life, but I would pick Carson to be on my First Team if I could pick one. Carson is the type of leader that leads by example. He is a true winner and will do all he can for the team.”
The coach notes that football “is a year round sport for the true football player. They start lifting as soon as the post season is over and spend many hours in the weight room. Carson is one of the strongest players I have coached. He takes pride in doing everything with perfection. Technique is important to him in the weight room and agility’s are performed with precise measures.”
Larkey recalls having always used Carson as a blocking back for the other running backs and “he very seldom got to carry the ball. He never complained about doing his job. However, it was in a game last year, I believe at Perry Central, that I put him at the halfback position in the wishbone and gave the ball to him. He couldn’t be stopped. I asked myself, why haven’t I been doing this all along.”
Larkey said Whithead has become “one our strongest runners on the team since then. He not only runs the ball well and plays good defense, but he has great hands if you decide to throw him the ball. “
To recognize his talent, Whitehead has been selected to play in the Best of the Bluegrass All Star game on Dec. 15 in Louisville – a huge honor. He will be the first from HCHS to play in this game.
He does plan to play college ball, possibly at Eastern Kentucky University. He is interested in a career in the engineering field.
Whitehead has some advice for current teammates and for future Black Bears: “Never give up and when you are given the opportunity to show what you can do, do it. Don’t waste the opportunity.”