High School Insider Q&A: Knoch's Jonathan Whalen
Despite being an undersized nose guard, Knoch's Jonathan Whalen helped lead the Knights to Heinz Field for the WPIAL Class AAA title game last year. Whalen earned all-conference first-team honors after clogging the middle and collecting 30 tackles, including four for a loss. He's undecided if he'll continue his football career in college but is looking forward to a successful senior season.
Q: Considering the Knights were WPIAL runners-up last year, do you think there's even more interest among the team's fans heading into this season — and more pressure to do well?
A: Last year was obviously a very special season. But any year, there's pressure to perform. Saxonburg is a really great football town. There are a lot of fathers who played who have sons playing now. Last year, we got a lot of exposure. But every year, the community rallies around us. Is there more pressure? We just go out and try to prepare for each week.
Q: Last year, you were a standout on the defensive line but didn't play offense. Will you be playing both ways this season?
A: I'm not starting on the offensive line, but I'll be worked in to give one of the two guards a rest. Both of those guys are starting both ways. It takes a couple of games to get into the swing of going both ways, but I'll be able to handle it. We condition well in camp.
Q: What's it like having your father, Frank Whalen, as Knoch's defensive coordinator?
A: I have a great relationship with my dad. We've spent a lot of time talking about games and techniques. I've watched a lot of film with him. But sometimes we just go out to eat or whatever. Sometimes, dads who coach give special treatment to their sons or are very hard. My dad hasn't done either. He's treated me like another person on the team.
Q: You're somewhat undersized for a Class AAA defensive lineman, being listed at 5-foot-11, 205 pounds on the roster. What attributes and skills help make you successful?
A: That would be my dream size (Whalen said he's actually 5-8, 180). At the college and pro level, it helps to be 6-6, 280 to be successful. In high school, I think it has a lot more to do with desire. When you're undersized, it has to do with quickness and strength. I can deal with being undersized.
Q: Outside of football, what other sports or hobbies are you interested in?
A: I don't play any other high school sports. I'm on the debate team. I love debate. And I'm on the chess team. Matt Miller, who also plays (football), and me started the chess team. And I love riding my mountain bike.
Q: What's the most memorable experience you've ever had outside of sports?
A: I have two adopted sisters from China (Abigail, 7, and Elisabeth, 5). When I was 10 or 11 years old, we went to China to get my oldest sister. I got to see some great landmarks. I was on the Great Wall of China and went to the Forbidden City in Beijing.
Q: What line of work do you hope to get into after school, and could you see yourself coaching like your father?
A: I would love to coach high school football at Knoch or wherever. As far as line of work, I've known since I was 5 years old that I wanted to be a fiction novel writer (Whalen scored a perfect 800 on the Critical Reading section of the SAT).
Paul Kogut is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-224-2696.