While brandon Jacobs and terry jackson have gotten all the hype, siu opponents have felt the sting of the salukis’

By Gus Bode

SIU football head coach Jerry Kill did his best to get the word out on Arkee Whitlock.

He tried telling anyone who would listen in April that Whitlock, a sophomore running back transfer from

Coffeyville Community College (Kan.), was baffling the Saluki defense during spring practice. At that time, though, many were preoccupied with the addition of Minnesota transfer running back Terry Jackson.


Kill tried reminding people throughout fall camp that Whitlock continued to impress with his combination of speed, quickness and power. But by then, the outside focus had shifted to the arrival of Auburn transfer Brandon Jacobs and the outstanding Division I-AA duo Jackson and him would surely create.

And even though Whitlock led the Salukis with 109 rushing yards the first game of the season versus Southeast Missouri State, those outside Carbondale still didn’t get the idea.

“I’ve been overlooked my whole life,” said Whitlock, who doesn’t mind the underappreciated role and nonetheless leads the Salukis with 209 rushing yards through the first two weeks of the season.

In a prime example, one major Chicago newspaper ran a series of stories previewing last Saturday’s interstate match-up with Northern Illinois praising Jacobs and Jackson as the Salukis’ primary threats.

“It used to be Thunder and Lightning in Carbondale with powerful Tom Koutsos and speedy Muhammad Abdulqaadir running the football for Southern Illinois,” read a Friday, Sept. 10 story. “Now it’s the Perfect Storm with Brandon Jacobs, one of the nation’s biggest tailbacks at 6-4, 255 pounds, converging with fellow Division I-A transfer Terry Jackson.”

The next day the same paper wrote, “The pride of the Salukis is their experienced backfield, featuring veteran quarterback Joel Sambursky and running back transfers Brandon Jacobs (Auburn) and Terry Jackson (Minnesota).”

Whitlock was brought up later in each of the articles, but he has been playing second fiddle to the perfect media storm that has latched on to the Salukis and their Division I-A caliber backfield since the summer.


Although Whitlock, for now, is often the forgotten man when discussion turns to the SIU running backs, he continues to compile the most yardage on game days.

What makes Whitlock even more valuable is that he doesn’t care about receiving recognition. He’s used to not receiving any, which is precisely why he tends to shy away from the hype anyway.

“I’m not really too big on publicity,” Whitlock said. “I’ve never really had that much, so I’m able to maintain without it. It makes me work harder, but it’s no problem. “

Publicity or no publicity, it took just under two minutes for Whitlock to make his presence felt versus the Huskies, bursting up the middle for 23 yards on the Salukis’ first play from scrimmage. Whitlock finished the heartbreaking 23-22 loss with a team-leading 96 yards to go with an eye-opening 7.4-yard average on 13 carries.

“We put him at that superback position and we schemed a little bit to try to get him in there with the quick opener and things like that,” Kill said following the game. “We try to invent ways to get that kid the football. For a sophomore to be doing what he’s doing, I think it is incredible.

“He’s a very good football player, and we knew that when we recruited him. And in the spring, he just proved it.”

With two impressive games to open his Saluki career, Whitlock’s journey to Carbondale is becoming well worth it.

A native of Rock Hill, S.C., Whitlock earned all-state and all-conference honors in high school, but he wasn’t even a running back until his senior year. Whitlock excelled as a linebacker and safety at Rock Hill High School before graduation finally allowed him to move to offense.

“I think in his mind he’s a defensive guy,” said Coffeyville head coach Jeff Leiker. “He could play on the defensive side. He’s tough.”

Leiker first discovered Whitlock at the 2001 South Carolina/North Carolina Shrine Bowl and came away impressed. Whitlock flirted with the idea of attending Middle Tennessee State on a partial scholarship, but his high school coach convinced him junior college would eventually allow him a wider variety of options.

Whitlock immediately found himself buried on the depth chart behind a host of backs at Coffeyville including Jacobs, who rushed for more than 1,800 yards during the 2002 season. Leiker made the decision to redshirt Whitlock as a result.

“Every level I had to start from the bottom,” Whitlock said. “You have to crawl before you walk.”

Whitlock earned the starting position the next year and rushed for 1,383 yards. Because he graduated on time, he was off to SIU to continue its running tradition and to follow in the footsteps of many of his former Coffeyville teammates.

Shortly after Whitlock committed to the Salukis, Jackson and eventually Jacobs announced their intentions to transfer to SIU. Even though Whitlock initially saw the opportunity for plenty of playing time with Koutsos and Abdulqaadir gone, he wasn’t bothered at all by the new Saluki transfer backs.

He never questioned his commitment. He never questioned himself.

Rather than fold, Whitlock’s competitive nature took control.

“When they came in, it just let me know I have to work harder and harder everyday,” Whitlock said.

With a great spring and an equally impressive fall camp, the determined Whitlock earned the role of superback, the ever-evolving variable that makes the Saluki offense tick. Kill describes the superback as a multiple threat to run or catch, and he compares the role to that of Heisman Trophy candidate Reggie Bush of USC.

Whitlock, listed at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds, has oddly enough been most effective between the tackles. SIU offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said running Whitlock up the middle has had more to do with the opponents’ defensive looks than anything, but that he likes the way it has worked.

“Obviously having him play that fullback position and getting him the ball quick does help. It’s just another way to use him as a weapon and get him the football in a different spot,” Limegrover said. “Traditionally fullbacks aren’t guys who can carry the ball, make a burst and get the ball vertical the way he does.”

As Limegrover mentioned, many of Whitlock’s impressive gains have been while lining up in the fullback spot. More than once he’s lined up in front of the much bigger Jacobs, presenting a rather odd image compared to the traditional big fullback, small tailback setup.

Whitlock said he and his teammates have had a few laughs about it while watching tape.

“On film it looks real funny. He’s bigger than me, and I’m all small in front of him,” Whitlock said. “We laugh and joke about it on the side, but not really that much because we know what the main purpose is for.

“I’m not out there really to block linebackers. I’m basically there to keep defenses from cheating on certain plays and thinking at all times.”

All joking aside, Whitlock realizes he’s been the beneficiary of the hype that has followed Jacobs and Jackson to Carbondale.

“When teams come in they definitely are looking for Brandon Jacobs and Terry Jackson. So I’m kind of the guy everyone’s overlooking,” Whitlock said. “So I try to come in and hurt them as much as possible. I take advantage of the situation of [Jacobs and Jackson] being big keys.”

Limegrover confirmed Whitlock’s sentiments, saying that the superback position is partially designed to prevent the defense from focusing too much on the tailback.

But even if Jacobs and Jackson weren’t keeping defensive coordinators up all night, which they won’t be the next two seasons after this one, Limegrover is confident Whitlock is more than talented enough to stand on his own.

“If all 11 were keying on Arkee, he’d find a way to get yards,” Limegrover said. “He’s just that type of kid.

“He’s a special back and a special football player.”