After his pro career faded, former Syracuse defensive back Julian Whigham chases his journalism dreams

first_imgEvery day, Julian Whigham wakes up at 6 a.m., fixes his iPhone on a bathroom counter in his Skyler Commons apartment and turns on a recent college football game. He mutes the volume and taps play. For 30 minutes every morning, Whigham stands there, alone in his bathroom calling games for nobody to hear but himself.“I’m trying to be the Kobe Bryant of the media,” Whigham said. “I know I don’t have the experience, so I have to wake up and do this every day. I have to play catch up.”Last fall, Whigham said he needed to be transformed. He was unsure exactly of who he was or what he wanted to do with his life after graduating from SU in 2016 with a degree in political science. He played SU football from 2012 to 2015, and after going undrafted in the 2016 NFL Draft, he signed with the Buffalo Bills. He got cut. Later last summer, he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He got cut again. An ex-girlfriend knew he liked to write, so she suggested he give reporting a try. Whigham shrugged, skeptical.“Maybe,” he said, still healing from the sting of not making an NFL roster.One day last fall while sitting on the couch, Whigham decided to devote his post-playing career to journalism. He reached out to NunesMagician.com, a website covering Syracuse sports that he enjoyed reading as a player. He applied to the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications because of its reputation as a top-ranked program.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textNewhouse contributed to why Whigham committed in 2012 to Syracuse out of Dwyer (Florida) High School. But, when he arrived at SU, he remembered “the coaching staff said, ‘You’re not going to have time to do Newhouse. You’re going to be playing.’”When asked if coaches ever discouraged athletes from enrolling in Newhouse, SU Athletics listed several athletes enrolled in Newhouse, including men’s basketball player Matthew Moyer and football players Rex Culpepper and Zack Mahoney.SU Athletics said in a statement: “Our chief priority is ensuring our student-athletes succeed inside and outside the classroom. A dedicated team of academic counselors works to encourage and support our student-athletes as they explore and pursue academic disciplines that both interest and challenge them.”After Whigham finished his playing career, he thought he had a chance to do something different. So, just more than a year after he was cut by the Steelers, the 23-year-old Whigham has dipped into both broadcast and print media. He has gone from Syracuse cornerback to undrafted free agent to SU football analyst.This fall, he contributes to Nunes Magician, where he writes defensive breakdowns on the Orange. He is a reporter for 247Sports.com and an on-air contributor as a co-host for ESPN Radio’s pregame shows. He is also an analyst for a local ABC station and a color analyst for ESPN Radio’s broadcasts of local high school football games. This winter, he will call play-by-play for SU women’s basketball games for the ACC Network.“People tell me I do pretty well,” Whigham said. “I’m just figuring out what I like the most.”Andy Mendes | Digital Design EditorWhat he enjoys most is writing columns and talking on the radio. He wants to do something like Brent Axe, who works for Syracuse.com and ESPN Radio Syracuse. Whigham works with Axe on the radio, learning about voice inflection and when to spray commentary versus when to get into the “nerdy football stuff.”Axe said he has found there are a lot of people interested in what Whigham has to say. He arrives to the studio early with copious notes. He flashes a big smile, sits upright and brings a “genuine passion” to the set. During commercial breaks, Whigham may get animated about a topic. He’ll erupt about why a defense was unsuccessful or why a play worked well.“Sometimes I have to tell him to save some of it for the air,” Axe said. “His enthusiasm just soars through the radio.”For the past few months, Whigham has been more than a graduate student in search of a job. He’s been a role model, too, specifically because African Americans account for only 2.8 percent of the radio news workforce and 10.9 percent of the television news workforce, according to a 2017 study published by the Radio Television Digital News Organization and Hofstra University.Growing up in the Miami area, Whigham listened to sports radio. When at the store with his mother, Wanda, he flipped through magazines. In high school, his goal was to write for Rolling Stone, combining his interests in writing and music. After class presentations, teachers complimented him.“When they said I articulated myself well, I wasn’t sure if it was just because I was black,” Whigham said. “Maybe they hadn’t met a lot of kids from impoverished areas who could articulate themselves in such a manner.”What Whigham wants most is to work at the national level. He said he’s discovered “a whole new Julian,” who has turned from quiet football player to a social and engaging on-air personality.“I want to be that example of a kid who was an athlete, his whole life was football, but he realized he could do something else and impact the world,” Whigham said. “I just want to be that beacon of light and hope to minorities or whoever else that there’s more to life than your sport.Chase Guttman | Staff PhotographerWhen he arrived at SU, Whigham said reporters would thank him for his thoughtful and insightful answers about the SU defense. Whigham wondered why. After games, he scrolled through news outlets to read what was written about him. His mother, Wanda, said he “took a lot of that to heart.” Whigham said coaches would tell him to read less because it distracted him.Journalism gives him a platform to share his playing expertise with fans. He said he approaches the craft with a more meticulous mindset than he approached football. Getting cut from NFL teams gave him the energy to wake up at 6 a.m. and practice in front of the mirror.In June, Whigham stayed at SU quarterback Eric Dungey’s apartment. When he said he was studying journalism, Dungey took particular interest. Whigham said Dungey peppered him with questions: “If you saw someone at the bar with a shirt off, would you report on it? Are you going to be asking questions about specific stuff?”A few days after the Syracuse-Miami football game Oct. 21, which Whigham covered, senior wide receiver Steve Ishmael ran into Whigham on campus. Ishmael told Whigham he was surprised to see him in the press room at Miami. Ishmael complimented Whigham for looking professional.“Thanks Steve,” Whigham recalled saying. “Were my questions good?”“Man,” Whigham remembered Ishmael saying. “I was disappointed you didn’t ask me a question.”“Whenever I talk to them, they seem to be more comfortable,” Whigham said later. “They know I’m honest and know the game, because I’ve been there, I get it.”In February, Whigham wrote an open letter to incoming SU recruits. He warned them that they would hear all kinds of advice, and he urged them to not be complacent. He admitted that as a freshman football player he “had no idea what was going on” — from defensive schemes to team meetings to the bus schedules.Andy Mendes | Digital Design EditorWhigham still gets the urge to make tackles, he said, but he doesn’t miss the sport. He is enjoying his new gig, even as a beginning broadcaster. Every week, he said he writes articles about the NFL that don’t get published anywhere. He just wants the practice, so the drafts sit in a Medium.com drafts folder.Whigham used to lift weights in the team weight room at Manley Field House, but he stopped because he felt he was getting an advantage. He saw players who were injured. He heard coaches chirping about game plans, practice habits or the depth chart. Whigham said he didn’t feel that was fair, so he now lifts at Archbold Gymnasium.His media quest isn’t so much about looking good on television or getting his voice across or proving to others how much he knows about football. It is about defining himself in a career in which he wants to pursue for the rest of his life.“I’m trying to find what the best Julian Whigham looks like,” he said. “Finding out who he is and what influence he can he can have in his lifetime — that’s my No. 1 goal. That’s why I wake up as early as I do to call play-by-plays that nobody’s ever going to hear or write articles that nobody’s ever going to read. I do it because I want to be as great a contributor to this world I can.” Comments Published on November 12, 2017 at 10:49 pm Contact Matthew: [email protected] | @MatthewGut21 Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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